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Commission rejects Trump campaign’s request for debate in early September

On Wednesday, Giuliani officially requested an additional, fourth presidential debate to be held in early September. Giuliani said that if that couldn’t happen, the third debate, currently scheduled for late October, should be moved to the beginning of September.

“For a nation already deprived of a traditional campaign schedule because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, it makes no sense to also deprive so many Americans of the opportunity to see and hear the two competing visions for our country’s future before millions of votes have been cast,” Giuliani wrote in a letter to the commission on Wednesday.

The co-chairs of the commission acknowledged that mail-in voting would be more widespread this fall, but maintained that voters would still have the opportunity to tune in to the debates before they cast their ballots.

The Trump campaign and the conservative mediasphere have fixated on presidential debates in recent weeks. Sparked by a CNN column by Bill Clinton’s former press secretary Joe Lockhart that urged Biden not to debate the president, the topic of Biden‘s ditching the debates has dominated outlets like Fox News.

The Biden campaign said the former vice president had agreed to the three debates, and the letter from the commission’s co-chairs greeted the fact that both Biden and Trump have said they will take part in the three scheduled events.

The first debate will take place in Cleveland on Sept. 29, followed by one in Miami on Oct. 15 and the final debate in Nashville on Oct. 22.

“The Commission has found that three 90-minute debates work well to fulfill the voter education purposes the debates are intended to serve,” the letter read. “If the candidates were to agree that they wished to add to that schedule, the Commission would consider that request but remains committed to the schedule of debates it has planned as reflected in the attached release.”

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Donald Trump is losing the culture wars

“America has changed,” said Frank Luntz, the veteran Republican consultant and pollster. “Every person who cares about the NRA is already voting for Trump. Suburban swing voters care about the right to own a gun, but they don’t care about the NRA.”

A brawl between the NRA and New York state once would’ve been turnout gold for a Republican president. And some Republicans and Democrats alike on Thursday suggested that Republicans could use the episode to stoke turnout among Trump’s base.

But the NRA is not the institution it was in American politics even four years ago, when it spent heavily to help Trump win election. Beset by financial problems and infighting, public support for the NRA has declined during the Trump era, falling below 50 percent last year for the first time since the 1990s, according to Gallup. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of Americans want stricter gun laws.

That’s when voters are even thinking about gun control. Three months before Election Day, they mostly aren’t — it’s all about coronavirus and the economy, stupid. That’s a problem for Republicans even the NRA has acknowledged.

Frank Miniter, editor in chief of the NRA publication America’s First Freedom, raised the alarm for members in a column last week. Citing research by a firearms trade association, he lamented that “only 17% of gun owners in the survey said ‘gun-related issues’ were one of their three top policy areas going into this election (15% did say ‘crime’ and 18% said ‘civil rights’).”

The culture wars of old, said Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster who worked on the presidential campaigns of Jimmy Carter and Howard Dean, seem “miles away from where this election is right now.”

Gun control and other cultural issues, he said, “are always a backdrop and a way for Trump to maintain his base. But again, his base is 42 percent. Where’s the other 5-6 percent he needs going to come from?”

If Republicans have an opening in the developing feud over the NRA, it will likely have less to do with gun control than with a broader effort to paint Joe Biden as beholden to the progressive left. The former vice president, a moderate Democrat, remains ill-defined in many voters’ minds, pollsters of both parties say. Republicans are spending heavily to depict him as an extremist, and the filing of the NRA lawsuit in New York, a heavily Democratic state, helped Republicans to advance their cause.

“The Democrat strategy has seemed to be — and I think it was a smart strategy — go with Biden, he’s a centrist, he’s safe, he’s non-threatening,” said Greg McNeilly, a Republican strategist in Michigan and longtime adviser to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. While that alternative seemed inviting to a lot of Trump supporters, including older voters, McNeilly said he thinks they’ll reconsider when the reality of a potential Biden presidency sets in.

And the lawsuit against the NRA is “incredibly tangible, specific attack on a core Republican value … This is a gift to the Trump campaign, and it’s an unforced error on the [Democratic] side. It’s a real mistake.”

Trump himself pressed the case Thursday when he called the New York action a “very terrible thing that just happened.”

Evoking his own defection from New York to Florida and drawing a more explicit connection to a state that is unexpectedly competitive, he told reporters, “I think the NRA should move to Texas and lead a very good and beautiful life, and I’ve told them that for a long time.”

Pro-gun control groups like Everytown for Gun Safety have spent millions of dollars on down-ballot races in recent years, winning victories in a number of swing congressional districts in 2018. And Democrats sense an opportunity to put the NRA down for good.

“What’s interesting is that if the NRA truly has to dissolve, there is no far-right organization that is going to take its place,” said Mathew Littman, a former Biden speechwriter who works on gun reform. “The NRA is not where the American people are on the gun issue … So without that, I think you could see rational gun reforms.”

Within hours of the lawsuit’s announcement, some Democrats did raise concerns about the effect that it could have on turnout. One Democratic elected official in Pennsylvania likened it politically to a Republican attorney general suing to dissolve Planned Parenthood, saying, “If this is the election of our lifetime, and I believe it is, why risk it?”

But given Trump’s inability to harness any other cultural issue so far in the campaign, it will likely take a Hail Mary for him to make it work. Trump has been running consistently behind Biden nationally and in most battleground states — unaided by issues surrounding civil unrest and the flag. Trump’s best chance, most Republicans and Democrats agree, is for the coronavirus or economy to turn around or for his law-and-order rhetoric to gain traction.

“The election is about Trump’s pandemic response and the answer to the Reagan question: Are you better off now than four years ago,” said Doug Herman, a lead mail strategist for Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

Even in Texas, a relatively gun-loving state, several Democrats said they doubted the NRA issue would resonate.

“I just don’t really think that many people are paying that much attention” to anything other than the pandemic and the economy, said Colin Strother, a veteran Democratic strategist in Texas.

Chris Lippincott, an Austin-based consultant who ran a super PAC opposing Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2016 Senate campaign, said, “It’s not breaking news that New York Democrats don’t like the NRA.”

Holly Otterbein contributed to this report

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The Tennessee GOP primaries, explained

In Tennessee on Thursday, the Republican primaries for both the Senate and the state’s First Congressional District are likely to be determined by one critical factor: adherence to the doctrine of Donald Trump.

The Senate GOP primary, a race to replace the retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander, is a battle among 15 candidates with two frontrunners: Bill Hagerty, a businessman and formerly Trump’s appointment to be ambassador to Japan; and Dr. Manny Sethi, who has decried Hagerty for being inadequately supportive of the president and too close to moderates like Sen. Mitt Romney.

Hagerty has leaned hard on his endorsement from Donald Trump and the strength of his relationship with the president. He served as chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign in Tennessee, and in an interview with RealClearPolitics in January, he noted that he was the only member of the Trump administration to receive an endorsement from the president.

But that endorsement hasn’t gone quite as far as Hagerty may have hoped, in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I spoke with Erik Schelzig, editor of the Tennessee Journal, a political paper focused on state politics. “The Trump endorsement was expected to be a major boon for Hagerty, but the lack of personal appearances by the president in Tennessee has robbed the former ambassador of the excitement that such rallies have generated for other candidates. Writing the Trump endorsement on a campaign sign just isn’t the same thing as appearing onstage with him.”

And those signs haven’t stemmed the tide of ads calling him a “liberal” just like Lamar Alexander, the man he’d be replacing (who is a Republican who voted with Trump 90 percent of the time).

The campaign has attracted national attention from Republicans using the contest as a preview of future fights over what conservatism will look like in the Senate.

Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) have endorsed Hagerty, with Cotton describing him on Twitter as “a strong conservative who will take on China, support law enforcement & stand up for our military.” But Sethi has received endorsements from Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Schelzig told me that in his view, the opposing endorsements “feel like a bit of a proxy war with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.”

The battle for the state’s First Congressional District has similar themes, as 15 Republicans, including several with political experience on the state and local level, battle it out with ads focused on combating Chinese influence and purported “Antifa chaos” taking place in cities far from the district’s borders.

Because the state of Tennessee encompasses two time zones, polls will close in the First Congressional District at 8 pm ET while polls for the center and west of the state will close at 7 pm CT. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that voters cannot vote by mail simply because of concerns over Covid-19, but absentee ballots already filed will be counted, and voters with underlying conditions and their caretakers can vote by mail.

Vox will have live results for the Senate and House primaries, thanks to our partners at Decision Desk HQ.

The GOP Senate primary: A nasty fight between very similar options

In a race led by two very Trumpian men, Sethi is attempting to make his comparative lack of political experience into a positive.

Hagerty’s ties to Romney — he chaired the finance committee of Romney’s 2008 campaign and was a national strategist for his 2012 effort — have been a particular target for Sethi.

“Sethi’s underdog campaign hasn’t been shy about prodding Hagerty as an ‘establishment’ figure from the get-go,” Schelzig said.

The hits have been effective enough that a Hagerty spokesman told the New York Times that the campaign returned a donation from Romney’s Believe in America PAC because “we do not share Senator Romney’s liberal, anti-Trump political positions.”

But while the two candidates have been spending on negative ads aimed at one another (which Schelzig told me had voters “expressing bewilderment about what exactly is going on” given how much the primary was on the back burner due to the pandemic), the two have very few policy differences.

Sethi opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest, while Hagerty has said that there should be “very infrequent” exceptions for those instances. Sethi attracted some attention for promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for Covid-19 despite a lack of evidence and demanding that Trump fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, arguing that he “failed” and damaged the American economy.

And while Hagerty supports the use of active-duty military to quell protests (asking Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act to do so), Sethi campaign manager Chris Devaney said in a statement back in June:

Manny appreciates President Trump’s leadership, which is why he doesn’t think we need the 101st Airborne in this. Our U.S. military exists to kill bad guys, not to do police work. Our National Guard is more than capable of dealing with these rioters and looters, upholding the rule of law, and busting some heads if need be, to protect our country.

The Fight for 15 (Republicans)

The race for the Republican nomination in Tennessee’s First Congressional District — a heavily Republican area encompassing roughly 710,000 people — has attracted little national attention but is no less contentious. Fifteen Republicans are running to replace Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), who is retiring this year. They include Diana Harshbarger and state Rep. Timothy Hill, the choice of the DC-based conservative super PAC Club for Growth.

As Schelzig told me, Hill aligned with groups like Americans for Prosperity while a state lawmaker, and when he got into the race for the First District, “he pumped most of his money into advertising to boost his poll numbers and demonstrate his viability to the Club for Growth.” And while Hill’s ads have attacked Harshbarger — one arguing that she has sketchy ties to Chinese pharmaceutical interests — Schelzig told me, “The attacks have more to do with dragging her down from her early lead to give Hill a better chance at winning, rather than any deep-felt antipathy toward Harshbarger.”

For her part, Harshbarger is campaigning as an outsider taking on establishment political interests (a familiar tactic in Republican primaries), blasting her opposition for allegedly supporting tax increases and for putting outside interests ahead of Tennesseans.

Her ads also follow a general GOP theme this cycle: Voting for Harshbarger and other Republicans can stem the “chaos” taking place across the country (though, notably, not in her district).

Other Republican candidates for the First Congressional District include State Sen. Rusty Crowe, former Kingsport Mayor John Clark, and former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden, all of whom are well known to voters in the area. But Crowe also has some baggage that might turn off Republican voters — he was a Democrat who switched parties in 1995, and he voted to support a failed effort to expand Medicaid coverage back in 2015. And as former mayors of cities, Clark and Darden both have valuable managerial experience, but Schelzig told me that “there is traditionally some suspicion among Republicans from the more rural parts of the district of those from the cities, whom they perceive as more moderate.”

The Tennessee GOP was unable to comment on either of these races, both of which seem to indicate that the Tennessee Republican Party, like the national party, has turned to Trump as the ultimate arbiter of conservative bona fides. It remains to be seen how voters will respond.


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Biden: Latino community is diverse 'unlike the African American community'


Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden contrasted the Black and Latino communities in remarks on Wednesday, stating that the latter is “incredibly diverse.”

"Unlike the African-American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly diverse attitudes about different things," Biden said. "You go to Florida, you find a very different attitude about immigration than you do in Arizona. So it’s a very diverse community."

Biden made the remark during an interview hosted by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists that was released in full on Thursday. His remarks on diversity were a response to question from NPR reporter Lulu Garcia Navarro, who asked if Biden would engage with Cuba.

President Donald Trump quickly attacked Biden over the remark, calling it an example of "condescending white liberal racism."

Katrina Pierson, a Trump campaign adviser, said in a statement that the former vice president "tells a group of Black reporters that ‘you all know’ that Black people think alike. There’s a reason Joe Biden can’t count on the support of Black voters and it’s because of his plantation owner mentality."

"Joe Biden would rather we all just shut up, get in line, and know our place,” she said.

The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Elsewhere in Biden’s interview with the journalism associations, Biden bristled at a reporter’s question about whether he has taken a cognitive test akin to the one Trump has bragged about acing. Biden replied to the question from CBS News correspondent Errol Barnett, who is Black, by saying “That’s like saying to you, before you got on this program if you had taken a test were you taking cocaine or not. What do you think, huh? Are you a junkie?"

Biden’s campaign defended those comments by calling Barnett’s question "preposterous" and "deserving of a response that showed the absurdity of it all."

Biden also drew criticism last May for saying that "you ain’t Black" if "you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump." The Democratic candidate made the remarks during an interview with The Breakfast Club, a nationally syndicated radio show, and later apologized for the remark.

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What happens if there’s no clear winner?

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On the roster: What happens if there’s no clear winner? – Friday deadline looms with no virus deal in sight – Trump provides moderator list in push for earlier debate – Trump holds narrow lead in Iowa – Ya burnt

WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE’S NO CLEAR WINNER?
There has been a lot of loose talk from both presidential candidates about rigged or stolen elections of late, and many predict a lengthy legal battle over the presidency.

President Trump warned this week that the outcome could be in dispute for “months and months” or “for years.”

But let’s not get ourselves all knotted up in the claims of our hyper hyperbolic president or his rhetorically sloppy challenger, Joe Biden. Instead, let’s run through the realities of an inconclusive presidential election.

First, let’s remember that it’s Congress, not the courts, that certify the results of a presidential election. Each state chooses its electors and those electors’ votes are transmitted by the state elections boss – usually a secretary of state – to the Senate.

On Jan. 6 a joint session of the next Congress will meet to ratify those findings and declare the candidate that has won a majority of the vote – 270 votes or more – the president.

What the president is suggesting is that there would not be results from all the states by then or, what he and Biden have both suggested, is that the results may be rigged or disputed. And that’s where things could get very interesting.

Courts certainly do have their place in this, but that happens long before Congress acts. State elections officials have to certify their electors before the Monday after the second Wednesday in December, which is Dec. 14 this year. All of the legal jockeying that takes place will have to occur between Election Day and then.

Those who recall the drama around the 2000 election will remember that what was in legal dispute was the power of Florida’s secretary of state to certify the results despite demands from Al Gore’s campaign that recounts continue. The court deferred to state authorities and Florida certified its electors.

Given how long counting has taken in some state primaries this year it’s not unreasonable to think that we could see legal battles rage until the last minute, but one way or the other, by Dec. 14, they’re obliged to convene their electors and transmit the results by certified mail.

But what if some states don’t finish in time or what if secretaries of state certify electors with claims widely in dispute? The Constitution has an answer.

If the disputed or incomplete results don’t prevent a candidate from reaching 270 votes then it’s no big deal. Congress can ignore what’s missing and still pick a president.

But if the number of missing or disputed electors is large enough or the election close enough that the absence prevents either candidate from getting to 270, the House gets to choose. Just as would be the case in a 269-269 tie, the House would select one of the candidates who has won electoral votes.

We have some precedent here. In 1877, the results from three states were in dispute in a race close enough to call the final result in question, so Congress created a bipartisan panel to review the results. The House certified the panel’s findings and awarded the presidency to Rutherford Hayes despite his evident initial defeat. (It went along with some horse trading in which Republicans agreed to end military Reconstruction.)

But however Congress gets there, on Jan. 6 the members will either certify the results or the House will get to work making its choice. Here, the House acts differently than usual. The delegations from each of the 50 states get one vote. California and Montana would be equals.

The current Congress is pretty narrowly divided with 25 Republican-majority delegations, 24 Democrat-majority delegations and one tie, Pennsylvania. We don’t know what the next Congress will look like exactly, but we can assume it won’t be wildly different.

There are currently four states with caucus control decided by one seat: Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Michigan. One imagines there would be a great deal of deal making in such places. It would be hot stuff, indeed.

But however it goes, the House would pick a president before noon on Jan. 20 when the current president’s term expires.

Our Founders and the Constitution contemplated the possibility of contested elections and on three separate occasions it has fallen to Congress to resolve such disputes. If we end up screwing up this election beyond repair or if the participants try to wreck the republic in order to keep or obtain power, it won’t be the end of us.

Instead, it will be a heckuva lesson in civics and politics for us all.

THE RULEBOOK: AND YET…
“It is a sound and important principle that the representative ought to be acquainted with the interests and circumstances of his constituents.” – Alexander Hamilton or James Madison, Federalist No. 56

TIME OUT: PERSON TO PERSON
WaPo: “Koko Kondo had a secret mission as a girl: revenge. She was determined to find the person who dropped the atomic bomb on her hometown of Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945. The attack, one of two atomic bombs the United States dropped to end World War II, had caused the suffering and the terrible burns she saw on the faces of girls at her father’s church. She wanted to square off and give them a punch. She got her chance in 1955. Ten-year-old Kondo appeared on … ‘This is Your Life’ that was featuring her father, the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto. … Kondo stared in hatred at another guest: Captain Robert Lewis, co-pilot of the B-29 bomber Enola Gay, which dropped the bomb. … Kondo saw tears well in Lewis’s eyes, and her hatred melted away. ‘He was not a monster; he was just another human being. … I knew that I should hate the war, not him,’ Kondo [said].”

Flag on the play? – Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

SCOREBOARD
NATIONAL HEAD-TO-HEAD AVERAGE
Trump: 40.6 percent
Biden: 51.8 percent
Size of lead: Biden by 11.2 points
Change from one week ago: Biden no change in points, Trump no change in points
[Average includes: Fox News: Trump 41% – Biden 49%; ABC/WaPo: Trump 44% – Biden 54; Quinnipiac University: Trump 37% – Biden 52%; NBC News/WSJ: Trump 40% – Biden 51%; Monmouth University: Trump 41% – Biden 53%.]

BATTLEGROUND POWER RANKINGS
(270 electoral votes needed to win)
Toss-up: (109 electoral votes): Wisconsin (10), Ohio (18), Florida (29), Arizona (11), Pennsylvania (20), North Carolina (15), Iowa (6)
Lean R/Likely R: (180 electoral votes)
Lean D/Likely D: (249 electoral votes)

TRUMP JOB PERFORMANCE
Average approval: 40.8 percent
Average disapproval: 56.8 percent
Net Score: -16 points
Change from one week ago: no change in points
[Average includes: Fox News: 45% approve – 54% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 40% approve – 58% disapprove; Gallup: 41% approve – 56% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 36% approve – 60% disapprove; NBC News/WSJ: 42% approve – 56% disapprove.]

GOT A WILD PITCH? READY TO THROW A FASTBALL?
We’ve brought “From the Bleachers” to video on demand thanks to Fox Nation. Each Wednesday and Friday, Producer Brianna McClelland will put Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt to the test with your questions on everything about politics, government and American history – plus whatever else is on your mind. Sign up for the Fox Nation streaming service here and send your best questions to HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM.

FRIDAY DEADLINE LOOMS WITH NO VIRUS DEAL IN SIGHT
Bloomberg: “The White House and congressional Democrats are running up against a self-imposed Friday deadline to strike a deal on a virus relief package with little sign they’ve narrowed most fundamental differences. Neither side indicated they would walk away from negotiations if an agreement can’t be reached. But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said unless some compromise can be found soon, more negotiations may be fruitless. ‘Our objective is to try to reach an understanding of the major issues by Friday,’ Mnuchin told reporters after meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday. … Meadows said the administration and Republicans have already given more ground than Democrats in talks. He said if a deal was still out of reach by the end of the week, President Donald Trump was prepared to use executive authority to provide forbearance on student loans, impose a moratorium on evictions and extend supplemental unemployment insurance.”

Pelosi rejects short-term federal unemployment extension, again – Fox News: “The top two Congressional Democrats Thursday accused Republicans of trying to ‘nickel and dime’ struggling Americans by pushing for the smallest coronavirus relief bill possible and not understanding the gravity of the pandemic and economic fallout. The comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at a Capitol news conference revealed Democrats are standing firm for a massive stimulus package, similar to House Democrats’ $3 trillion HEROES Act, and have rejected GOP efforts to slim down the response. Pelosi said while there’s been progress negotiating with Republicans, ‘we’re not there yet.’ She again refused to pass a short-term $600-per-week extension to the expired unemployment benefits, arguing the need for a bigger deal is the priority.”

Job loss damage becoming permanent – Politico: “Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell to 1.19 million last week million last week, the Labor Department reported. The decline follows two weeks of increases in mid-July as states imposed new shutdowns. There are 31.3 million U.S. workers receiving jobless aid payments. Tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs in the coronavirus recession, but for many of them the news is getting even worse: Their positions are going away forever. Permanent losses have so far made up only a fraction of the jobs that have vanished since states began shutting down their economies in March, with the vast majority of unemployed workers classified as on temporary layoff. But those numbers are steadily increasing — reaching 2.9 million in June — as companies start to move from temporary layoffs to permanent cuts. The number is widely expected to rise further when the Labor Department reports July data on Friday.”

TRUMP PROVIDES MODERATOR LIST IN PUSH FOR EARLIER DEBATE
U.S. News & World: “President Donald Trump’s team is requesting a fourth presidential debate against former Vice President Joe Biden be added in early September… In the letter sent to the Commission on Presidential Debates on Wednesday, Trump confidante and personal attorney Rudy Giuliani asked the nonpartisan commission to schedule a fourth debate in early September or, if they decline the proposal, suggested moving up the third and final debate to the first week in September. He proposed adding another debate that would be held before Sept. 4, which is when North Carolina begins sending out absentee ballots. … Giuliani submitted a list of two dozen suggested debate moderators, naming ‘Today’ show co-anchor Hoda Kotb, CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett and a number of Fox News hosts, including Bret Baier, Maria Bartiromo and Harris Faulkner. Giuliani also requested information about back-up plans for debate locations ‘in the event additional COVID-19 complications arise at any of the locations.’”

Trump tops Biden as both tout large July fundraising hauls – Fox News: “President Trump’s re-election campaign says that it and the Republican National Committee (RNC) and their joint fundraising committees combined brought in an eye-popping $165 million in contributions last month. The Wednesday evening statement from the Trump campaign also touted that they now have more than $300 million cash on hand as of the end of July. The combined Trump campaign/RNC haul is a record and is up more than $30 million from the $131 million they raised in June. Their war chest total appears to be a slight increase from the $295 million they had in their campaign coffers at the end of June. The campaign spotlighted that July was their largest online fundraising month ever. … The announcement from Trump’s re-election team came soon after Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s presidential campaign reported that it and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and their joint fundraising committees combined hauled in $140 million in last month.”

TRUMP HOLDS NARROW LEAD IN IOWA
Monmouth University: “Both the presidential contest and the U.S. Senate race in Iowa are very competitive according to the Monmouth (‘Mon-muth’) University Poll. … Among all registered voters in Iowa, Donald Trump is supported by 48% and Joe Biden is supported by 45%. … Overall, 45% of Iowa voters have a favorable opinion of Trump and 50% have an unfavorable view. Biden gets a similar rating of 43% favorable and 49% unfavorable. Slightly more Iowa voters have a very unfavorable opinion of Trump (45%) than Biden (38%). In the election for U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent Joni Ernst (48%) and Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield (45%) are locked in a tight battle. Libertarian Rick Stewart earns 2%, independent Suzanne Herzog has 1%, and another 3% are undecided. … The poll also finds that 40% of Iowa voters say it is very likely they will vote by mail rather than in person this November.”

Senate races in Kentucky, South Carolina and Maine are tight – Quinnipiac University: “In three high-profile Senate races in the states of Kentucky, South Carolina, and Maine, three longtime Republican incumbents are facing competitive races, according to a Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pea-ack) University poll of registered voters in each of those states released today. … Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell holds a slight lead over Democratic challenger Amy McGrath, 49 – 44 percent, with 5 percent undecided. … The U.S. Senate race in South Carolina is a tie, with 44 percent of voters backing Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and 44 percent backing Democrat Jaime Harrison. … The U.S. Senate race in Maine is too close to call with Democrat Sara Gideon getting 47 percent of the vote and Senator Susan Collins getting 43 percent.”

GOP Senate super PAC launches $21M ad buy – Politico: “Republicans’ chief Senate super PAC is launching a new $21 million TV and radio ad buy in August across five races as the party continues to fight to protect its majority against massive Democratic spending. Senate Leadership Fund, the outside group with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will launch ads starting next week in Montana, Georgia, Iowa and North Carolina, and will also go up in Arizona later this month, according to details shared first with POLITICO. The August wave represents an earlier-than-expected launch for the super PAC, which had previously booked $90 million in ads set to run across the Senate map starting after Labor Day. The five states are all ones in which Republican incumbents are vulnerable and are considered by both parties to be among the most competitive and expensive races on the map. Senate Leadership Fund had previously booked air time in all five of the states for after Labor Day, along with Colorado, Kentucky and Maine.”

HARRIS HOLDS ON IN BIDEN VEEPSTAKES
Fox News: “Joe Biden says he doesn’t ‘hold grudges’ against Sen. Kamala Harris of California for her takedown of the former vice president at the first Democratic presidential primary debate 14 months ago. And in an interview with reporters that aired Thursday morning during the virtual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said that Harris is ‘very much in contention’ as Biden decides whom he’ll choose as his running mate. Speculation that Harris might be Biden’s choice increased last week… Asked in the interview that aired Thursday about [former Sen. Chris] Dodd’s [concerns about Harris], Biden remarked, ‘He didn’t say that to the press, he was talking to somebody offline, and it was repeated.’ And pointing to Harris, the former vice president emphasized that, ‘I don’t hold grudges.’”

Arnon Mishkin: Biden could benefit by skipping Democratic Convention – Fox News: “The announcement Wednesday that former Vice President Joe Biden will not travel to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee to accept his party’s presidential nomination because of the coronavirus pandemic could be a plus for his presidential campaign. … Now with no need to travel to the Democratic Convention, Biden can continue his shelter-in-place campaign from home. Since Biden is leading Trump by significant margins in opinion polls among voters nationally and in key states, he has little incentive to change his strategy and start traveling around the country campaigning. The very real danger posed by the coronavirus pandemic gives Biden a good excuse to stay home and portray himself as a responsible candidate concerned with public health. When a president is running for reelection, the campaign invariably turns into a referendum on the incumbent. That’s truer than ever this year.”

TENNESSEE GOP SENATE SHOWDOWN COMES TO A HEAD
Fox News: “Polls are open in Tennessee, where two Republicans who tout their support for President Trump but bash each other are facing off in a Senate primary Thursday to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander. The primary showdown between Bill Hagerty and Dr. Manny Sethi also pits the president against two top conservatives – Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Hagerty doesn’t waste an opportunity to remind voters that he’s backed by Trump. ‘Conservative Bill Hagerty. Endorsed by President Trump. Hagerty and Trump will rebuild our economy,’ says the narrator in one of the Tennessee Republican’s recent TV ads. … In the Trump era, a presidential endorsement is usually enough to put a GOP candidate over the top in the Republican primary. But Hagerty’s one-time lead over Sethi disappeared in recent weeks. … Sethi – who’s running as an outsider and an insurgent candidate – is also trying to claim the Trump mantle. He touts that he voted for Trump in Tennessee’s March 2016 Republican presidential primary and points out that Hagerty supported Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in the GOP primaries four years ago.”

Both candidates center campaigns around supporting Trump – NYT: “The increasingly toxic primary, in a state once known for its genteel politics, highlights the transformation of the Republican Party since Mr. Alexander first captured this seat nearly two decades ago. Whereas Mr. Alexander, 80, centered his first Senate primary message on electoral experience and education policy, his would-be successors have defined their pitches almost entirely in terms of Donald Trump — campaigning not on ideas and vision but on a blanket promise to support the president, and to spurn those who cross him. In a state where 94 percent of Republican voters support Mr. Trump, it’s not a bad strategy. But for some observers, the lead-up to Thursday’s election has signified the undignified demise of the longtime centrist flavor of Tennessee Republicanism. Politicians who might have once aspired to the bipartisan statesmanship of Senator Howard Baker are now happy to contort themselves to the ideological and dispositional demands of Trumpism.”

NEW YORK TARGETS NRA OVER CORRUPTION
NBC News: “New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit Thursday against the National Rifle Association and four individuals, including powerful leader Wayne LaPierre, seeking to dissolve the gun rights advocacy group for ‘years of illegal self-dealings’ that funded a ‘lavish lifestyle’ for its top executives. James said the not-for-profit organization undercut its charitable mission by engaging in illegal financial conduct, including diverting millions of dollars ‘for personal use by senior leadership, awarding contracts to the financial gain of close associates and family, and appearing to dole out lucrative no-show contracts to former employees in order to buy their silence and continued loyalty.’ ‘The NRA is fraught with fraud and abuse, which is why, today, we seek to dissolve the NRA, because no organization is above the law,’ she said. Also named in the complaint are Wilson ‘Woody’ Phillips, a former treasurer and chief financial officer; Joshua Powell, a former chief of staff and the executive director of general operations; and John Frazer, the corporate secretary and general counsel.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Ohio governor tests positive for coronavirus ahead of Trump visitFox News

As Trump intensifies ObamaCare attacks, red state voters embrace itWashTimes

Pergram: Beware the Ides of August and why this one is primed to be the dooziest of dooziesFox News

Acting State Department inspector general resigns WSJ

The Judge’s Ruling: Unlawful federal spying on journalists in Portland should cost officials their jobsFox News

AUDIBLE: AGREE TO DISAGREE
“I have a 23-year-old son whom I love dearly, whose politics are very, very different from my own and from the rest of our family. My son and I will have some robust disagreements over some matters of policy, not all. And yet, at the end of the day, you know, I love him dearly and he loves me.” – Former national security adviser, and Democratic vice president contender, Susan Rice in an interview with NPR.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I think you may have misread Hamilton [in Wednesday’s Rulebook]. He was writing about the ‘Chief Magistrate’ aka Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Nothing to do with the College.” – Dennis Gallion, Griffin, Ga.

[Ed. note: I can see why you would think so, Mr. Gallion. We now use the term “magistrate,” on those rare occasions when we do, to refer to judicial officials. The federal courts and some states refer to first-tier judges who handle preliminary hearings and adjudicate minor offenses or small claims as “magistrates.” Certainly the word has an explicit legal role in its origins. The magistrates of ancient Rome held various judicial authorities over the span of the monarchy, republic and empire, but it’s the base word, “magus” or “master,” that is the key to understanding. The way to think of a magistrate is as the Romans meant it: one empowered to administrate. Those lower-level judges that may have caused your confusion are so named because they are carrying out administrative functions so that the superior judges are free to deal with the cases themselves. What the Framers and their contemporaries meant by “magistrate” was one with the authority to administer, including on certain judicial kinds of matters as part of the ordinary administration of government. While the greatest power would be with the people and their representatives in Congress, the president – the chief magistrate – would take care of those things that are not suited to congressional deliberation. In our system prior to our defeat of the Founders’ vision, Congress would create laws and the executive would be the master of implementing those laws. The reason presidents were given such broad power was in part because it was assumed they would need latitude in order to carry out the stated wishes of Congress. Now, presidents just make up laws as they like, disregard the laws they don’t and dare the courts to deny them or Congress to impeach them. It is a dangerous habit and one that will eventually be our undoing as a country if we can’t get things back in working order. You are far from the only one who has forgotten the proper role of the president as an administrator – one whose power is beneath that of the people by their representatives in Congress. By the way, the only time the Constitution ever mentions the chief justice of the Supreme Court is the passing instruction that he will be the one to preside over an impeachment trial. So the Framers assumed that there would be such a person but left it to Congress and the court to sort out how such a position would be filled.]

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

YA BURNT
WPIX: “Oliver Neligan, a veteran and retired MTA worker, was on his way to Sunday morning mass when he noticed a man following him from the deli where he just picked up his morning coffee. Neligan left the shop at the corner of 60th Street and Queens Boulevard in Woodside, heading for 8 a.m. service at Saint Sebastian Catholic Church, just about six blocks away. ‘When I went to take a sip of my coffee, he jumped me from the back and put his hands around my neck,’ the 84-year-old Irish immigrant recalled. ‘I threw the coffee cup up and I tried to hit him with it,’ he told PIX11 Wednesday. ‘Then he grabbed me and I kind of wrestled with him, and we went down.’ … ‘I grabbed the mask out from his face and he took off running,’ Neligan recounted at the scene of the crime. ‘He didn’t get my money,’ he said.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“At the heart of all baseball sentimentalism is this confusion of the young and the good.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on May 12, 1989.

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

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Russia Hoax: Are We All Being Played? Put Up or Shut Up.

Many people have asked me why I haven’t written a book since the start of my reporting on the FBI’s debunked investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia.

I haven’t done so because I don’t believe the most important part of the story has been told: indictments and accountability. I also don’t believe we actually know what really happened on a fundamental level and how dangerous it is to our democratic republic. That will require a deeper investigation that answers the fundamental questions of the role played by former senior Obama officials, including the former President and his aides.

We’re getting closer but we’re still not there.

Still, the extent of what happened during the last presidential election is much clearer now than it was years ago when trickles of evidence led to years of what Fox News host Sean Hannity and I would say was peeling back the layers of an onion. We now know that the U.S. intelligence and federal law enforcement was weaponized against President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and administration by a political opponent. We now know how many officials involved in the false investigation into the president trampled the Constitution.

I never realized how terrible the deterioration inside the system had become until four years ago when I stumbled onto what was happening inside the FBI. Those concerns were brought to my attention by former and current FBI agents, as well as numerous U.S. intelligence officials aware of the failures inside their own agencies. But it never occurred to me when I first started looking into fired FBI Director James Comey and his former side kick Deputy Director Andrew McCabe that the cultural corruption of these once trusted American institutions was so vast.

I’ve watched as Washington D.C. elites make promises to get to the bottom of it and bring people to justice. They appear to make promises to the American people they never intended to keep. Who will be held accountable for one of the most egregious abuses of power by bureaucrats in modern American political history? Now I fear those who perpetuated this culture of corruption won’t ever really be held accountable.

These elite bureaucrats will, however, throw the American people a bone. It’s how they operate. They expect us to accept it and then move on.

One example is the most recent decision by the Justice Department to ask that charges be dropped on former national security advisor Michael Flynn. It’s just a bone because we know now these charges should have never been brought against the three-star general but will anyone on former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team have to answer for ruining a man’s life. No, they won’t. In fact, Flynn is still fighting for his freedom.

Think about what has already happened? From former Attorney General Jeff Session’s appointment of Utah Prosecutor John Huber to the current decision by Attorney General William Barr to appoint Connecticut prosecutor John Durham to investigate the malfeasance what has been done? Really, nothing at all. No one has been indicted.

The investigation by the FBI against Trump was never predicated on any real evidence but instead, it was a set-up to usurp the American voters will. It doesn’t matter that the establishment didn’t like Trump, in 2016 the Americans did. Isn’t that a big enough reason to bring charges against those involved?

His election was an anomaly for the Washington elite. They were stunned when Trump won and went into full gear to save their own asses from discovery and target anyone who supported him. The truth is they couldn’t stand the Trump and American disruptors who elected him to office.

Now they will work hand in fist to ensure that this November election is not a repeat win of 2016. We’re already seeing that play out everyday on the news.

But Barr and Durham are now up against a behemoth political machine that seems to be operating more like a steam roller the closer we get to the November presidential elections. Barr told Fox News in June that he expects Durham’s report to come before the end of summer but like always, it’s August and we’re still waiting.

Little is known about the progress of Durham’s investigation but it’s curious as to why nothing has been done as of yet and the Democrats are sure to raise significant questions or concerns if action is taken before the election. They will charge that Durham’s investigation is politically motivated. That is, unless the charges are just brought against subordinates and not senior officials from the former administration.

I sound cynical because I am right now. It doesn’t mean I won’t trying to get to the truth or fighting for justice.

But how can you explain the failure of Durham and Barr to actually interview key players such as Comey, or former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, or former CIA Director John Brennan. That is what we’re hearing from them.

If I am going to believe my sources, Durham has interviewed former FBI special agent Peter Strzok, along with FBI Special agent Joe Pientka, among some others. Still, nothing has really been done or maybe once again they will throw us bone.

If there are charges to be brought they will come in the form of taking down the subordinates, like Strzok, Pientka and the former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who altered the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act application against short term 2016 campaign advisor Carter Page.

Remember DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report in December, 2019: It showed that a critical piece of evidence used to obtain a warrant to spy on Page in 2016 was falsified by Clinesmith.

But Clinesmith didn’t act alone. He would have had to have been ordered to do such a egregious act and that could only come from the top. Let’s see if Durham ever hold those Obama government officials accountable.

I don’t believe he will.

Why? Mainly because of how those senior former Obama officials have behaved since the troves of information have been discovered. They have written books, like Comey, McCabe, Brennan and others, who have published Opinion Editorials and have taken lucrative jobs at cable news channels as experts.

It’s frankly disgusting and should anger every American. We would never get away with what these former Obama officials have done. More disturbing is that the power they wield through their contacts in the media and their political connections allows these political ‘oligarchs’ unchallenged power like never before.

Here’s one of the latest examples. Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s top prosecutor Andrew Weissmann just went after Barr in a New York Times editorial on Wednesday. He went so far as to ask the Justice Department employees to ignore any direction by Barr or Durham in the Russia investigations.

I think Barr and Durham need to move fast if they are ever going to do anything and if they are going to prove me wrong. We know now that laws were broken and our Constitution was torched by these rogue government officials.

We shouldn’t give the swamp the time-of-day to accuse the Trump administration of playing politics or interfering with this election. If the DOJ has evidence and is ready to indict they need to do it now.

If our Justice Department officials haven’t done their job to expose the corruption, clean out our institutions and hold people accountable then it will be a tragedy for our nation and the American people. I’m frankly tired of the back and forth. I’m tired of being toyed with and lied to. I believe they should either put up or shut up.

From Weissmann’s New York Times Opinion Editorial

Today, Wednesday, marks 90 days before the presidential election, a date in the calendar that is supposed to be of special note to the Justice Department. That’s because of two department guidelines, one a written policy that no action be influenced in any way by politics. Another, unwritten norm urges officials to defer publicly charging or taking any other overt investigative steps or disclosures that could affect a coming election.

Attorney General William Barr appears poised to trample on both. At least two developing investigations could be fodder for pre-election political machinations. The first is an apparently sprawling investigation by John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, that began as an examination of the origins of the F.B.I. investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The other, led by John Bash, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, is about the so-called unmasking of Trump associates by Obama administration officials. Mr. Barr personally unleashed both investigations and handpicked the attorneys to run them.

But Justice Department employees, in meeting their ethical and legal obligations, should be well advised not to participate in any such effort.

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Joe Biden taps Marty Walsh to lead N.H. economic roundtable

Joe Biden’s campaign is tapping longtime pal Boston Mayor Martin Walsh to lead an economic roundtable with New Hampshire business owners on Friday.

Walsh will host the group of Granite State leaders and small business owners at noon Friday to talk about the first plank of the presumptive Democratic nominee’s “Build Back Better” economic plan, “Made in America,” which focuses on growing domestic manufacturing to create millions of new jobs.

The Biden campaign said in a press release that 111,000 jobs have been lost in New Hampshire since last year, including “thousands” in manufacturing.

The discussion led by Walsh, a longtime union leader, “will focus on Biden’s efforts to rebuild and grow the manufacturing industry in the Granite State and across the nation in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Walsh sat out both the New Hampshire and Massachusetts presidential primaries, endorsing neither his old friend nor his state’s senior U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The mayor did, however, host Biden in a visit to the Seaport in June 2019 to talk climate resiliency and tour the park built in honor of Boston Marathon bombing victim Martin Richard.

Mobilizing Walsh now could fuel existing speculation about whether the mayor could get a cabinet position in a Biden administration given his friendship with the former vice president and his background as a labor leader.

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Climate change: How to drive fossil fuels out of the US economy, quickly

In the run-up to World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enlisted the entire US economy in an effort to scale up production of war material. All of the country’s resources were bent to the task. In 1939, the US had 1,700 aircraft and no bombers; in 1945, it had 300,000 military aircraft and 18,500 B–24 bombers.

By the time the war was won, the economy was up and humming with a massively expanded workforce (drawing in women and African Americans) and turbocharged productive capacity. Investments made during the war mobilization yielded a robust middle class and decades of sustained, broadly shared prosperity.

A similar mobilization will be necessary for the US to decarbonize its economy fast enough to avert the worst of climate change. To do its part in limiting global temperature rise to between 1.5° and 2° Celsius, the US must reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. To achieve this, the full resources of the US economy must be bent toward manufacturing the needed clean-energy technology and infrastructure.

FDR began with two questions. First he asked, not what was politically feasible, but what was necessary to win the war. He also asked, not how much funding was available in the federal budget, but how much productive capacity was available in the economy — what was possible.

Saul Griffith is trying to answer those same questions on climate change: what is necessary, given the trajectory of global warming, and what is possible, given the resources in the US economy.

Saul Griffith
Courtesy of Saul Griffith

A physicist, engineer, researcher, inventor, serial entrepreneur, and MacArthur “genius” grant winner, Griffith’s recent work spans two organizations. First, he is founder and chief scientist at Otherlab, an independent research and design lab that has mapped the energy economy.

And alongside Alex Laskey, co-founder of Opower, he recently started Rewiring America, which will develop and advocate for policies to rapidly decarbonize the US through electrification. (It is going to release a book called — be still my heart — Electrify Everything.)

Last week, Rewiring America made its big debut with a jobs report showing that rapid decarbonization through electrification would create 15 to 20 million jobs in the next decade, with 5 million permanent jobs after that. For the most part, the media covered it as just another jobs report, saying basically what other clean-energy jobs reports have said.

But the jobs are, in many ways, the least interesting part of the work. Much more interesting is Griffith’s larger project — the model he’s built and its implications.

In a nutshell, he has shown that it’s possible to eliminate 70 to 80 percent of US carbon emissions by 2035 through rapid deployment of existing electrification technologies, with little-to-no carbon capture and sequestration. Doing so would slash US energy demand by around half, save consumers money, and keep the country on a 1.5° pathway, without requiring particular behavior changes. Everyone could still have their same cars and houses — they would just need to be electric.

“The report reinforces a key finding,” says Leah Stokes, an environmental policy expert at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “Cleaning up the electricity system solves the lion’s share of the problem. It allows us to electrify our transportation and building sectors and parts of heavy industry, which would address more than 70 percent of total emissions.”

Some of Griffith’s conclusions run contrary to conventional wisdom in the energy space. And they are oddly optimistic. Despite the titanic effort it would take to decarbonize, the US doesn’t need any new technologies and it doesn’t require any grand national sacrifice. All it needs, in this view, is a serious commitment to building the necessary machines and creating a regulatory and policy environment that supports their rapid deployment.

heat pump

The humble heat pump.
Shutterstock

In this post, I will walk through the energy data he’s assembled, what the data reveal about the fastest way to decarbonize, how fast that decarbonization could be accomplished, why it’s doable, its political challenges, and its political promise.

Griffith’s work is among the most interesting contributions to the climate discussion in ages. There’s a lot here, but it is worth your time. Let’s start with how he built the model.

How energy is used in the US economy, explained

In 2018, after applying for years, Otherlab was finally awarded a contract from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy to assemble in one place, for the first time, all publicly available data on how energy is used in the US.

As it happens, the US has great energy data. In response to the oil crisis of the 1970s, presidents created the Energy Information Administration, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Those agencies began gathering data on how energy is generated, transported, and used in various parts of the economy, and since have accumulated an enormous catalog.

Oddly, all that data has never been gathered, harmonized, and put in a single database. So Griffith and colleagues spent years poring over agency output from the last 50 years — he ruefully cops to being “the only person on the planet who has read every footnote of every DOE report since 1971” — and assembling it in a massive dashboard, which you can view here.

It tracks where every unit of energy enters the economy and how it is used as it passes through.

A zoomed-out image of Griffith’s visualization.
Rewiring America/Saul Griffith

This is not a model, per se, it’s just lots and lots of data visualized, a close-up “machine-level” view of energy flows in the US economy. But having the data in one place provides the raw material for Rewiring America to build a high-resolution model of what it would actually take to decarbonize — how many machines must be built, what kind, and how fast.

“Where most studies look at decarbonization in specific individual sectors such as transportation, the electricity grid, or buildings — and mostly only on the supply side,” the Rewiring America report says, “we build a model of the interactions of all sectors, both supply and demand, in a rapid and total decarbonization.”

The fastest way to decarbonize is to electrify everything

Griffith begins with a core assumption: We need to make a plan to solve the problem with the tools available. It is unwise, for instance, to bet on a large amount of carbon capture and sequestration coming online in time to make a difference. The technologies are still in the early stage and there are strong arguments they will never pencil out.

Griffith takes a “yes, and” approach. If carbon capture sequestration works out, great. If next-gen nuclear reactors work out, great. If hydrogen-based fuels work out, great. But we shouldn’t rely on any of them until they are real. We need to figure out how to do the job with the technology available.

On that score, Griffith’s modeling reaches two key conclusions.

First, it is still possible to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions in line with a 1.5°C pathway. Specifically, it is possible to reduce US emissions 70 to 80 percent by 2035 (and to zero by 2050) through rapid electrification, relying on five already well-developed technologies: wind and solar power plants, rooftop solar, electric vehicles, heat pumps, and batteries.

Think of those technologies as the infrastructure of 21st century life. If everyone uses carbon-free energy to heat their homes and get around, the bulk of the problem will be solved.

Second, to decarbonize in time, substitution of clean-energy technologies for their fossil-fuel counterparts must ramp up to 100 percent as fast as possible, after a brief period of industrial mobilization. Every time a gas or diesel car is replaced, it must be replaced with an EV; every time an oil or gas furnace is replaced, it must be replaced with a heat pump; every time a coal or gas power plant goes offline, it must be replaced with renewable energy.

An abstracted graph showing market adoption of technologies under various conditions like “high carbon tax” or “‘free market.’”

Rewiring America/Saul Griffith

There is no room left in a 1.5° or 2° scenario for more fossil fuel infrastructure or machines.

We need to radically ramp up production of electrification technologies and implement the policy and financing tools that will enable 100 percent substitution.

An abstracted graph of market adoption versus degrees Celsius of global warming.

Rewiring America/Saul Griffith

Clocking the maximum feasible transition to clean energy

Griffith and his colleagues set out to model a “maximum feasible transition” to carbon-free energy, limited only by the country’s production capacity. They describe it like this:

The maximum feasible transition (MFT) involves two primary stages: (i) an aggressive WWII–style production ramp–up of 3–5 years, followed by (ii) an intensive deployment of decarbonized infrastructure and technology up to 2035. This includes supply–side generation technologies as well as demand–side technologies such as electric vehicles and building heat electrification.

When it says production ramp-up, it’s no joke. Within three to five years, production of electric vehicles would would have to increase four-fold, batteries 16-fold, wind turbines 12-fold, and solar modules 10-fold.

Accommodating all those new electricity loads would also mean expanding the size of the grid by three- or four-fold. “Today we deliver about 450 gigawatts constantly,” says Griffith, “in the model of the future — where everyone’s house is the same size, everyone’s car is the same size, but it’s all electrified — you need to deliver 1,500 to 2,000 gigawatts.”

(To be clear, Griffith doesn’t necessarily think Americans should keep driving giant cars and living in giant houses. He supports urbanism and cycling and downsizing generally. He spent many years running a radical downsizing experiment on his own life. But he wants the public to know that changing their lifestyle is not necessary for decarbonization.)

Almost all the heavy lifting in the maximum feasible transition is done by electrification, “the exception being 5-10 Quads of non–electrical energy sources coming from [biofuels]” the Rewiring America report says. “Hydrogen or other synthetic fuels (which are generated from electricity) are deployed for a few high–temperature applications. The scenario does not rely on any deployment of carbon capture and storage, and all primary energy sources are net zero.”

In terms of generation, wind and solar do the bulk of the work, “along with a doubling of the current nuclear electricity fleet from 100GW to 200GW.” In particular, distributed energy (rooftop and community solar and batteries) plays a huge role, “accounting for around 25% of energy supply and a high degree of the storage capacity” would reduce the amount of energy the US needs by half.

One key aspect of electrification makes this transformation possible, and it represents perhaps the most astonishing finding in Griffith’s modeling: Large-scale electrification would slash total US primary energy demand in half, from around 100 quads to about 45-50. This a huge deal — it means America only needs to produce about half the energy with renewables that it is currently producing with fossil fuels.

And that massive drop in demand assumes no behavior change, no insulated buildings or double-glazed windows, no traditional “efficiency” measures of any kind. The transition from fossil fuel combustion to electricity, in and of itself, is the largest demand-side climate policy available.

How is that possible? The simple answer comes down to the fact that electric motors are more efficient than fossil fueled motors at converting primary energy into useful work.

The somewhat more complicated answer is this. You cut almost 10 percent off of energy demand right off the bat, says Griffith, because the Energy Information Administration has been overestimating, due to the way it accounts for nuclear and hydroelectric energy. (It’s too complicated to get into here.)

Another 10 percent of energy used in today’s economy goes toward “finding, mining, refining, and transporting fossil fuels,” Griffith says, and that demand goes away in an electrified economy. So it’s down to 80 percent left to replace.

Shifting from fossil fuel power plants to renewable energy saves another 15 percent, because carbon-free, non-thermal power sources rely on fewer energy conversions than thermoelectric sources. Electrifying transportation gets another 15 percent, because EVs are more efficient than ICE vehicles. Electrifying buildings gets another 6 to 9 percent.

To be clear, the US could reduce demand even more if it continued to better insulate buildings and other efficiency measures, if it downsized homes, drove less, and relied more on walking and electric cycling to get around.

But it is worth emphasizing, again: The biggest demand-side policy by far is electrification, which could slash US energy demand by half.

“You can’t efficiency your way to zero,” Griffith says. “You have to transform.”

EVs charging

EVs are more efficient than ICE vehicles.
Shutterstock

Industry is not as big a carbon problem as it appears

The alleged difficulty of decarbonizing heavy industry has been a major topic in carbon circles lately. (I have written about it myself.) It is one of the reasons often offered for why large-scale negative emissions will be needed.

Griffith disagrees. He points out that a big chunk of the carbon emissions attributed to industry are devoted to fossil fuels, and will disappear as they do. For instance, four to five percent of US energy is used to turn oil into gasoline, a subcategory of industry that will decline along with ICE vehicles.

As for the rest, “steel is tiny, and we can use hydrogen to make steel,” he says. “Aluminum traditionally makes a lot of CO2 because we use carbon electrodes for the smelting process; Alcoa and Rio Tinto already have carbonless electrodes for aluminum. Cement is still hard, but that’s only 1 percent. And the rest of industrial heat can mostly be done with induction for high-temperature heat or heat pumps for low-temperature heat.”

In short, industry is a problem, but a relatively small one. “It’s the last 5 percent of emissions,” Griffith says. “It’s hardly the thing that should stop us.”

There’s no way to accomplish a rapid energy transition with market-based policies

In his decarbonization “field manual” (written with colleagues, also on the Rewiring America site), Griffith is frank about what will be necessary to drive the MFT:

A 100% adoption rate is only achieved by mandate. The invisible hand of markets is definitely not fast enough; it typically takes decades for a new technology to become dominant by market forces alone as it slowly increases its market share each year. A carbon tax isn’t fast enough, either. Market subsidies are not fast enough.

Businesses and the market can and will help, he says, but “when Mother Nature arm–wrestles with the invisible hand, she will always win.”

A MFT cannot be accomplished through the usual incremental tax tweaks. A three- to five-year industrial ramp-up, followed by a sustained period of 100 percent substitution, would require wartime mobilization, which entails government taking a direct hand in industry, working with it to hit specific production targets through some mix of incentives, penalties, and mandates. For the first three to five years, it would be something more like a command economy than Americans are used to.

It is difficult to imagine such unity of purpose in today’s political circumstances (to say the least), but America has met big challenges with decisive government action before.

And Griffith emphasizes that, in proportional terms, today’s task is less substantial than FDR’s. It took the equivalent of 1.8 US GDPs to win World War II, whereas “the total cost of decarbonizing America is more like 1.2 to 1.5 GDPs,” he says. “Proportionally, it’s a significantly smaller interruption to the economy.”

Workers assemble the tail fuselage of a B-17F bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, California, circa 1942.

Workers assemble the tail fuselage of a B-17F bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, California, circa 1942.
Corbis/Getty Images

FDR’s interventions did not spoil America’s market economy, they strengthened it. The enormous investments the US made in its productive capacity yielded an expanded and more egalitarian workforce and decades of prosperity.

Unlike Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Griffith and his colleagues do not envision government picking up the bulk of the tab for the energy transition. The Rewiring America report says that “the total government share of the expense is likely only $250-350 billion per year, with the total public and private spending over 20 years at about 20-25 trillion dollars.” Three trillion in direct government spending over 10 years is well within the range proposed by most Democratic presidential candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden.

Rather than direct public funding, the MFT leans heavily into the idea that government capital will attract private capital through the establishment of new financing mechanisms. (Contrary to popular imagination, much of the original New Deal worked this way as well.)

The best way to ensure universal access to clean energy is clever financing

Energy infrastructure used to be composed exclusively of big public projects like dams and high-voltage transmission lines. But in an age of distributed energy, much of what can reasonably be thought of as infrastructure is small and distributed, located “behind the meter,” on the customer’s property. Solar panels on the roof, a heat pump and a battery in the basement, and an electric vehicle in the garage are 21st century infrastructure — they are all connected to, and interacting with, the grid.

To accomplish the MFT, the US needs to stop financing those behind-the-meter technologies like consumer items and start financing them like infrastructure, with low-cost, government-backed loans.

America has done this before, too. The US invented auto financing in the 1920s, radically democratizing car ownership, and the 30-year, government-guaranteed mortgage in the 1930s, radically democratizing home ownership. During the New Deal, the US invented electric co-ops that could access cheap government loans, radically democratizing access to electricity.

Consumers need access to cheap loans for electrification. How cheap? Griffith writes:

If we have to pay for it on a credit card, solving climate change will be very expensive — credit card interest rates hover at 15–19%. If we use the common financing options available for [rooftop] solar today, we’ll be paying around 8%. If we can pay for it with a government–backed, low–interest rate loan at something like mortgage interest rates of 3.5–4%, it will be affordable for nearly everyone.

A graph showing varying interest rates over a period of time.

Rewiring America/Saul Griffith

For the average American household, going fully electric (rooftop power, heat pump, battery, EV) requires about $40,000. Obviously, most people can’t pay that up front, but 3.5 to 4 percent financing could bring it in reach for almost everyone.

So the question is how to extend low-cost, government-backed loans to every homeowner and building owner, such that electrification becomes the default choice any time a piece of equipment or roof is replaced.

The Rewiring America team has been thinking about this and will release some formal policy proposals soon. Alex Zurofsky, a constitutional lawyer who helped oversee New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s climate and energy portfolio and has been consulting with the group, says the first step is determining a “qualifying list of machines,” which is no simple matter. Second is determining a target, a state-by-state interest rate that is low enough to make electrification a money-saver for everyone.

Third is extending loans to consumers. Zurofsky mentions several models. One is securitization and “wrapping” of loans, i.e., bundling them and having the federal government guarantee them up to a certain amount.

Another is along the lines of the Electric Home and Farm Authority (EHFA), created in 1935 in connection with the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA’s dams were generating too much electricity and the government needed consumers to buy more electric appliances, so the EHFA, backed by the Treasury, bought loans directly from businesses that extended low-interest credit to consumers for approved products. Zurofsky imagines something like the same model, only drawing on private capital.

A third is “on bill financing” by utilities, which are already “a long way ahead on customer acquisition and relationships,” Zurofsky says. Local utilities are one of the few entities most Americans trust with energy decisions.

All these models are being batted around as the team thinks over financing. It will be worth revisiting the subject, because as Griffith writes, “if done right, innovative low–cost financing will be the most effective way to ensure equity and universal access to cheap, reliable energy in the 21st century.”

Full electrification will bring all kinds of political benefits

For ages, the climate community has been accused of being too gloomy and doomy, lacking a positive vision for what decarbonization could mean for ordinary folks around the proverbial kitchen table. Climate is said to be too big and abstract to motivate most people, especially if they are being asked to give up things and use less.

Griffith’s model undercuts all that. Its benefits are extremely tangible at a kitchen-table level.

First, obviously a massive industrial mobilization would create jobs. Specifically, the MFT would create “as many as 25 million net new jobs at peak,” with 5 million ongoing new jobs after the initial surge. These jobs would be distributed over every zip code in the US, in a wide variety of well-paying trades and professions. What’s more, the jobs involved in installing solar panels and smart appliances, retrofitting buildings, and constructing high-voltage electricity lines cannot be outsourced. (If you want more on this, the report gets into extreme detail on the types of jobs that will be both destroyed and created, and how they will be distributed.)

A roofer installs a solar panel on a home in Falmouth, Maine.
Ben McCanna/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Second, full electrification would practically eliminate most major sources of air pollution, which would bring transformative social and health benefits in the form of fewer respiratory and cardiac illnesses, lower health costs, fewer missed work and school days, and better work and school performance. The benefits would be especially concentrated in low-income and communities of color, which suffer disproportionately from air pollution. Electrification of transportation would also eliminate an enormous amount of urban noise pollution (buses would hum rather than roar).

Third, the report concludes that “with appropriate regulatory policies and implementation, energy costs will be lower and the average [US] household will save $1,000–2,000 per year.” Even including the cost of building and deploying all those new solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, EVs, and heat pumps, electricity beats fossil fuels on efficiency that the costs still pencil out in consumers’ favor, even in the short term.

Fourth, from the consumer’s perspective, electrified life will just be cooler. Electric vehicles are better than ICE vehicles. They have better torque and handling. They can be continuously updated with new features and capabilities over wifi. They have much lower fuel and maintenance costs.

Well-insulated homes and apartments with heat pumps and radiant floor heating are more comfortable than fossil-heated buildings, with far better indoor air quality.

Solar panels on the roof coupled with batteries in the garage provide cheap, guilt-free power, a potential income stream, and resilience in the case of grid outages.

You might not notice that your water heater is communicating with your refrigerator, or that they are coordinating with your solar panels and batteries, or that the whole system is coordinating with the larger grid, but you will notice that your power is quietly, invisibly reliable.

All these benefits make perfect sense at the kitchen table, and with the right policy and financing, they can be available to every American.

This is the Green New Deal technical manual

The Green New Deal made some lofty demands for rapid industrial mobilization and decarbonization. The response of its critics was often that it lacked a detailed roadmap to accomplish its goals. Griffith has provided that roadmap, with detail down to the machine level. It is possible to substantially decarbonize the US economy by 2035 — we know what to build, how fast to build it, and where to put it.

Sunrise Movement protest

This is the plan.
Nelson Klein, Sunrise Movement

Where governments have implemented clear standards and invested in electrification technology, it has grown quickly and gotten cheaper. Griffith cites Australian rooftop solar policy, German heat pump policy, and California EV policy as examples.

“The report is clear that our old policy approaches will not cut it,” Stokes says. “A carbon tax will not result in sufficient infrastructure turnover at the pace and scale necessary. We need to take a standards and investment approach to transform the economy.”

American households could have great things: solar on every roof, powering heat pumps in every building and EVs in every garage, all communicating and coordinating, bringing stability to the grid. Homes could be more comfortable, cities could be quieter, the air could be cleaner, power could be more reliable, energy costs could be lower, and frontline communities could be free of the burden of living next to, and suffering disproportionately from fossil fuel infrastructure.

The US could be a more prosperous, healthier, and pleasant place to live.

“For so long we’ve been sold the lie that we have to choose between a livable planet and a thriving, equitable economy,” says Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement. “The Rewiring America Plan puts that lie to rest once and for all. We can achieve a just transition to a better world out of the wreckage of this economic crisis.”

That’s the story that needs to be told about tackling climate change. Not a story of privation or giving things up. Not a story of economic decline or inexorable ecological doom. A story about a better, electrified future that is already on the way.

We can muster the effort and investment over the next 10 to 15 years to accelerate it, to reach it in time to avert the worst of climate change. We can have clean air, clean energy, a prosperous economy, and a stable climate, all the things we want, if we’re just willing to do the work.


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Is Donald Trump the Republican Party’s future, or its past?

Historically, conservative political parties face the problem Harvard political scientist Daniel Ziblatt calls “the conservative dilemma.” How does a party that represents the interests of moneyed elites win elections in a democracy? The dilemma sharpens as inequality widens: The more the haves have, the more have-nots there are who will vote to tax them.

This is not mere ivory-tower theorizing. Conservative politicians know the bind they’re in. When Mitt Romney told a room of donors during the 2012 election that there were “47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what” because they “believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it,” even though they “pay no income tax,” he was describing the conservative dilemma. “Our message of low taxes doesn’t connect,” he said, a bit sadly.

If anything, Romney understated the case. Sure, 47 percent of Americans, in 2011, didn’t pay federal income taxes — though they paid a variety of other taxes, ranging from federal payroll taxes to state sales taxes. But slicing the electorate by income tax burden only makes sense if you’re wealthy enough for income taxes to be your primary economic irritant. That’s not true for most people. Romney’s 53 percent versus 47 percent split was a gentle rendering of an economy where the rich were siphoning off startling quantities of wealth.

Occupy Wall Street’s rallying cry — “We are the 99%!” — framed the math behind the conservative dilemma more directly: How do you keep winning elections and cutting taxes for the rich in a (putative) democracy where the top 1 percent went from 11 percent of national income in 1980 to 20 percent in 2016, and the bottom 50 percent fell from 21 percent of national income in 1980 to 13 percent in 2016? How do you keep your party from being buried by the 99 percent banding together to vote that income share back into their own pockets?

In their new book, Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality, political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson offer three possible answers. You can cease being a party built around tax cuts for the rich and try to develop an economic agenda that will appeal to the middle class. You can try to change the political topic, centering politics on racial, religious, and nationalist grievance. Or you can try to undermine democracy itself.

Despite endless calls for the GOP to choose door No. 1 — and poll after poll showing their voting base desperate for leaders who would represent their economic interests while reflecting their cultural grievances — Republican elites have refused. Take the 2018 tax cuts. Donald Trump might have run as a populist prepared to raise taxes on plutocrats like, well, him, but according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the bill he signed gave more than 20 percent of its benefits over the first 10 years, and more than 80 percent of the benefits that last beyond the first 10 years, to the top 1 percent. For that reason, it’s one of the most unpopular bills to ever be signed into law. It’s not the kind of accomplishment you can run for reelection on.

From Let Them Eat Tweets, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson

That’s left Republicans reliant on the second and third strategies. Hacker and Pierson call the resulting ideology “plutocratic populism,” and their book is sharp and thoughtful on how the GOP got here and the dangers of the path they’ve chosen. Where it’s less convincing is in its description of where “here” is: Does Trump represent the culmination of the Republican coalition or the contradictions that will ultimately tear it apart?

The logic, and illogic, of plutocratic populism

Plutocratic populism presents as a contradiction — like shouted silence or carnivorous vegan. The key to Hacker and Pierson’s formulation is that, in the GOP, plutocracy and populism operate on different axes. The plutocrats control economic policy, and the populists win elections by deepening racial, religious, and nationalist grievances.

“To advance an unpopular plutocratic agenda, Republicans have escalated white backlash — and, increasingly, undermined democracy,” Hacker and Pierson write. “In the United States, then, plutocracy and right-wing populism have not been opposing forces. Instead, they have been locked in a doom loop of escalating extremism that must be disrupted.

This is their synthesis of the great economic anxiety versus racial resentment debate. Republican elites weaponize racial resentment to win voters who would otherwise vote their economic self-interest. Hacker and Pierson are careful to sidestep the crude version that holds that ethnic and religious division are mere distractions. Voters see racial and religious dominance as political interests as compelling and legitimate as tax benefits, and the demand for politicians to reflect those underlying resentments and fears is real.

A protester in 2009 carries a sign that reads, “Barack Hussein Obama where were you really born? Your Grandma said Africa.”

A demonstrator questions the citizenship of President Obama at an American Family Association (AFA)-sponsored T.E.A. (Taxed Enough Already) Party in 2009. Weirdly, their sign says nothing about taxes.
David McNew/Getty Images

This is a key point in Hacker and Pierson’s analysis: They focus on the decisions made by GOP elites, not the desires of conservative voters. Their fundamental claim is that if Republican elites had chosen a more politically sellable economic agenda, they would have — or at least could have — resisted the lure of white resentment and still won elections. But once they made tax cuts for the rich and opposition to universal health care the immovable lodestones of their governance, they had little political choice save to power their movement with the dirty, but abundant, energy offered by ethnonationalism.

The most compelling evidence Hacker and Pierson cite for this argument comes from a study conducted by political scientists Margit Tavits and Joshua Potter, which looked at party platforms from 450 parties in 41 countries between 1945 and 2010. Tavits and Potter find that as inequality rises, conservative parties ratchet up their emphasis on religious and racial grievances — particularly in countries with deep racial and religious fractures. The pivot only works, Tavits and Potter say, when there is high “social demand” for ethnonationalist conflict.

The question this raises, and which Hacker and Pierson don’t really answer, is what would happen to this demand in the absence of conservative politicians willing to meet it — particularly in an age of weakened political parties, demographic change, and identitarian social media? Trump’s rise, which Hacker and Pierson present as the culmination of plutocratic populism, can also be read as a symptom of its mounting internal contradictions, and of the way Republicans voters are increasingly capable of demanding the representation they want.

It may be that the uneasy coalition that married white identitarians to Davos Man is breaking apart. Indeed, reading Hacker and Pierson’s book, I found myself wondering whether inequality was, itself, the cause of the coalition’s collapse: Perhaps the plutocratic agenda is becoming too unpopular to even survive Republican presidential primaries. And if that’s so, is the future of the Republican Party more moderate on all fronts, or more purely ethnonationalist?

The Donald Trump question

If you survey the modern Republican party, the figures most intent on turning it into a vehicle for ethnonationalist resentment are the least committed to the plutocratic agenda. Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson, Sen. Josh Hawley, and 2016 candidate Donald Trump are all examples of the trend: they are, or were, explicit in their desire to sever the ties that yoke angry nationalism and a desire for a whiter America to Paul Ryan’s budget.

Conversely, the Republican figures most committed to plutocracy — like Ryan or the Koch Brothers or the Chamber of Commerce — tend to back immigration reform, recoil from ethnonationalist rhetoric, and in 2016, they opposed Trump in favor of Jeb Bush and Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. They just lost on all those fronts.

Hacker and Pierson emphasize the fact that once in office, Trump abandoned populist pretense and gave the Chamber of Commerce everything it had ever wanted and more. But as with so much else with Trump, it can be hard to distinguish decision-making from disinterest. Trump outsourced the staffing of his White House to the Koch-soaked Mike Pence and his agenda to congressional Republicans. The question, then, is whether the dissonance of his administration represents an inevitability of Republican Party politics or simply a lag between Trump demonstrating the base’s prioritization of ethnonationalist resentment and a politician who will both win and govern on those terms.

This is the central unanswered question of Hacker and Pierson’s book: If you cut the plutocrats out of the party, either because bigotry drove them out or campaign finance reform neutered them or the Ayn Rand-rapture ascended them, would their absence lead to a Republican Party that moderates on economics and eases off the ethnonationalism, or would it lead to a Republican Party that moderates on economics so it can more effectively pursue social division? Put differently, do you get 2000-era John McCain or 2020-era Tucker Carlson? I suspect the latter.

Tucker Carlson abandoned conservative economics in favor of a purer, more confrontational ethnonationalism, and it’s made him Fox News’s highest-rated host, and spurred talk of a 2024 presidential run.
Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Politicon

Hacker and Pierson admit they are assessing the GOP as an elite-led institution, and quite often, that’s probably the right way to look at it. But they end up virtually ignoring the power that Republican voters actually hold and, when they are sufficiently offended, wield.

Bush and Rubio and Christie were humiliated in 2016. GOP-led efforts at immigration reform failed in 2007 and 2013. Majority Leader Eric Cantor was deposed by Rep. Dave Brat. The Republican autopsy, which recommended that the GOP become more racially and generationally inclusive, was ignored. At key moments, Fox News tried to support immigration reform and deflate Trump, and it lost those fights, and remade itself in Trump’s image. There are lines even conservative media can’t cross.

Hacker and Pierson marshal data showing the very rich are more economically conservative than the median voter, but also more socially liberal. As the GOP becomes more crudely identitarian, there’s some evidence that it’s losing the economic elites who George W. Bush once called “my base”: Contributions from the Forbes 400 have been tipping toward the Democratic Party in recent decades, and there’s reason to believe that’s accelerated under Trump. Hillary Clinton won the country’s richest zip codes in 2016 — a change from past Democratic performance — while Trump’s electoral college win relied on gains among lower-income whites.

Hacker and Pierson don’t assess the Democratic Party much in their book, but the future of plutocratic populism likely depends on the direction that coalition takes. Joe Biden’s Democratic Party is a tent restive billionaires might feel comfortable in. Yes, they’ll pay higher taxes, but they’ll also receive competent protection from pandemics, and won’t have to explain away the white nationalists in their ranks. If Bernie Sanders’s vision is the future of the Democratic Party, billionaires will remain in the Republican Party, where they are at least seen as allies.

Minoritarian authoritarians

The most chilling argument in Hacker and Pierson’s book is that Trump’s rhetoric has focused us on the wrong authoritarian threat. The fear that he would entrench himself as an individual strongman has distracted from the reality that his party is insulating itself from democracy:

As their goals have become more extreme, Republicans and their organized allies have increasingly exploited long-standing but worsening vulnerabilities in our political system to lock in narrow priorities, even in the face of majority opposition. The specter we face is not just a strongman bending a party and our political institutions to his will; it is also a minority faction entrenching itself in power, beyond the ambitions and careers of any individual leader. Whether Trump can break through the barriers against autocracy, he and his party—with plutocratic and right-wing backing—are breaking majoritarian democracy.

A useful thought experiment in American politics is simply to imagine what would happen if the system worked the way we tend to tell our children it works: Whoever wins the most votes wins the election. In that case, George W. Bush would never have passed his tax cuts nor made his Supreme Court nominations, and neither would Donald Trump. The Republican Party would likely have had to moderate its approach on both economics and social and racial issues, as there’d be no viable path forward that combines an economic agenda that repels most voters and a social agenda that offends the rising demographic majority. As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said in 2012, before becoming first Trump’s most slashing critic and then one of his most sycophantic defenders, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

As I argue in my book on polarization, which similarly ends with a call for democratization, if Trump had won exactly as many votes in 2016 but lost the election because of it, he and his followers would be blamed for blowing a clearly winnable contest and handing the Supreme Court to the Democrats for a generation. In that world, the toxic tendencies he represents would be weakened, and the Republican Party, having lost three presidential elections in a row, would have been far likelier to reform itself. Its ability to keep traveling the path of plutocratic populism stems entirely from the minoritarian possibilities embedded in America’s political institutions.

Hundreds of activists, mostly women, gathered in front of Trump International in Columbus Circle for a “Not My President!” rally in December 2016.
Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

As Hacker and Pierson show, this is a point of true convergence between the identitarians and the plutocrats: Both have lost confidence that they can win elections democratically so they have sought to rewrite the rules in their favor. What hold on power they retain comes from the way American politics amplifies the power of whiter, more rural, more conservative areas — and that’s given the conservative coalition a closing window in which to rig the system such that they can retain control.

America does not exist in a steady state of tension between majoritarian and minoritarian institutions. Those institutions can be changed, and they are being changed. A party in power can rewrite the rules in its own favor, and the Republican Party, at every level, is trying to do just that — using power won through white identity politics and geographic advantage, but deploying strategies patiently funded by plutocrats. As Hacker and Pierson write:

Recent GOP moves in North Carolina show what’s possible in a closely balanced state. Republicans first took the statehouse in 2010. They quickly enlisted the leading Republican architect of extreme partisan gerrymanders, Thomas Hofeller. A mostly anonymous figure until his death in 2018, Hofeller liked to describe gerrymandering as “the only legalized form of vote-stealing left in the United States.” He once told an audience of state legislators, “Redistricting is like an election in reverse. It’s a great event. Usually the voters get to pick the politicians. In redistricting, the politicians get to pick the voters.” In 2018, North Carolina Republicans won their “election in reverse,” keeping hold of the statehouse even while losing the statewide popular vote. In North Carolina’s races for the US House, Republicans won half the statewide votes and 77 percent of the seats. A global elections watchdog ranked North Carolina’s “electoral integrity” alongside that of Cuba, Indonesia, and Sierra Leone.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has sought to reword the census so Hispanics fear filling it out, in the hope that the political representation they’d normally receive flows to white, Republican voters instead. So far, the White House has been too clumsily explicit about the aims of this strategy for courts to clear it, but that’s a mistake that can easily be remedied by savvier successors.

Hacker and Pierson argue that the conservative dilemma matters because conservative parties matter. History shows that democratic systems thrive amid responsible conservative parties — parties that make their peace with democracy and build agendas that can successfully compete for votes — and they collapse when conservative parties back themselves into defending constituencies and agendas so narrow that their only path to victory is to rig the system in their favor.

This is the cliff on which American democracy now teeters. The threat isn’t that Donald Trump will carve his face onto Mt. Rushmore and engrave his name across the White House. It’s that the awkward coalition that nominated and sustains him will entrench itself, not their bumbling standard-bearer, by turning America into a government by the ethnonationalist minority, for the plutocratic minority.

Further listening

I spoke with Hacker and Pierson about their book, and the questions it raised for me, on my podcast, The Ezra Klein Show. Listen here, or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your pods.


Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.

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Biden Promises a Return to the Obama Era. That’s Bad News for Palestinians.

A campaign built on nostalgia is no comfort for those who are not at all nostalgic for the Obama administration.

The Biden campaign’s throwback plan on Israel is most evident in how it approaches the over $3 billion in military aid the United States sends to Israel every year.

Joe Biden is running a campaign of restoration. The presumptive Democratic nominee never tires of saying he wants to “restore the soul of the nation,” or of invoking his time as vice-president under Barack Obama.

It’s comforting rhetoric for many Democrats, a way to dream about returning to a time before Donald Trump.

But for Palestinians and their allies, Biden’s plan to return America to the Obama era is a frightening prospect. With few questions asked, the Obama administration armed Israel and blocked efforts to hold Israel accountable in international forums. A Biden presidency promises to follow the same path on Palestine—and Palestinians will pay the price.

Amid his nostalgic campaign, Biden has managed to promise some change: He’s pledged to invest nearly $2 trillion to combat climate change, backed some criminal justice reforms and says he wants the minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour.

But on U.S. policy towards Israel-Palestine, Biden has given no indication he would change a thing from his previous time in the executive branch.

Biden wants to reverse some of the Trump administration’s attacks on Palestinians by restoring humanitarian aid and security assistance to Palestinians.

He would also stick to the long-standing Washington consensus on Israel: back negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis to reach a two-state solution and rhetorically oppose Israeli settlement activity, but never sanction Israel for its theft of Palestinian land.

“Biden will continue to let Israel do what it wants and at the same time sugar-coat it—he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” said Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian-American human rights attorney and Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention. “Under the guise of a peace process, he’ll blame the Palestinians while horrors are being committed by Israel.”

The Biden campaign’s throwback plan on Israel is most evident in how it approaches the over $3 billion in military aid the United States sends to Israel every year.

Throughout the 2020 campaign season, progressives have called on candidates to endorse conditioning U.S. military aid to Israel. Such a policy would bar Israel from using U.S. military funding to carry out demolitions of Palestinian homes and arrests of Palestinian children. Biden, however, called the idea of conditioning aid “bizarre.”

Instead, Biden has pledged to uphold the Obama administration’s commitment to giving Israel $38 billion in military aid over the next decade with no strings attached. The U.S. weapons Israel buys with that money go towards bombing Gaza, the coastal enclave under a devastating Israeli blockade, and maintaining Israel’s violent military rule over millions of Palestinians. During Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, U.S.-made Hellfire missiles, artillery shells and Mark 84 bombs killed scores of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

The Biden campaign has also pledged to block UN efforts to hold Israel accountable. This campaign plank, too, is nothing new: In 2009, the Obama administration stopped efforts to refer the findings of the UN Goldstone Report, which found Israel committed war crimes in its 2009 war in Gaza, to the International Criminal Court. In 2011, Susan Rice, Obama’s ambassador to the UN—and today a leading contender to be Biden’s vice-president—vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land.

But it’s not just Biden’s policy pledges that promise more of the same destructive policies on Israel. It’s also his advisers.

His chief foreign policy adviser is Tony Blinken, Biden’s former National Security Adviser and a former Deputy Secretary of State. Blinken was part of the State Department team that helped negotiate the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding that committed the United States to sending billions in military aid to Israel. The Biden campaign has dispatched Blinken as an emissary to explain Biden’s Israel positions. In a July call with Arab-American activists, Blinken said Biden “opposes any effort to delegitimize or unfairly single out Israel, whether it’s at the United Nations or through the BDS movement.” During a May call with Democratic Majority for Israel, an AIPAC-linked lobby group committed to stopping progressives from changing Democratic Party policy on Israel, Blinken said Biden would never condition U.S. military aid to Israel.

It’s not only Blinken who has Palestinian rights activists dissapointed. Two Obama administration figures, former U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and former Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, played key roles in drafting the DNC platform language on Israel. The result was ugly: The platform did not mention the words “Israeli occupation” and endorsed the Obama administration’s military aid agreement with Israel. The DNC also rejected amendments to the platform language that called on the United States to condition aid to Israel so that US money doesn’t subsidize Israeli human rights abuses.

But while the Biden campaign isn’t giving Palestinian rights activists a reason to cheer, their outlook isn’t all grim. If Biden wins the White House, he will be confronting a slowly-growing progressive bloc of lawmakers who do want to condition U.S. military aid to Israel.

“That is where the hope is, if we continue to elect progressives into offices that are going to help change the debate,” said Arraf, the Palestinian-American human rights lawyer.

In June, as fears grew about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to formally annex West Bank settlements to Israel, 13 lawmakers, led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), signed a letter pledging to withhold some US military aid if Israel carries out annexation. It also warned that annexation would lead to Israel becoming an “apartheid state,” unusually strong language from Democratic members of Congress.

The letter was a sign of how emboldened progressives are becoming on Israel. If there’s one thing that’s clear about a Biden White House, it’s that he will do his best not to follow these progressives’ lead. But a clash over U.S. funding of Israeli human rights abuses may come anyway. The Biden White House will have to contend with a Democratic Party that doesn’t take its cues from Obama-aligned Democrats. Progressives will be looking to see if Biden can be forced to change.


Alex Kane is a New York-based freelance journalist who writes on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

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