Politico

Trump launches a frenzied effort to save his brand


President Donald Trump is racing to close a yawning gap in the polls in his final, frantic sprint to Election Day — and also rushing to restore a key element of his personal brand.

Two weeks since exiting a hospital after being pumped with experimental drugs, Trump is attempting to regain a carefully cultivated persona of the businessman-turned-politician who can travel more than anyone, work (or tweet) at all hours and deliver roaring rally speeches for more than 90 minutes on his feet.

It’s an image of vitality and stamina Trump has promoted throughout his real estate career, his reality show and his presidency, suddenly upended by his Covid-19 diagnosis in the final month of the 2020 race. Now, in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic and searing recession, Trump is closing out his campaign with this attitude of fighting, dominance and aggression rather than empathy and compassion many undecided voters may want in a moment of national uncertainty.

“He sees his ability to make calls late at night, function on little sleep and work no matter where he is as part of his appeal,” said one White House official. Covid “threatened to change that projected image.”


“Portraying weakness or vulnerability is not a comfortable spot for him,” the official added. “He thinks his supporters like seeing him as a fighter.”

Trump has long viewed his own portrayal of his health as an extension of his political brand — a way to draw a contrast with Republican rivals and now with Democratic nominee Joe Biden, according to interviews with eight current and senior former administration officials. It’s one reason he and his team have been so eager to resume travel and rallies over the past week — to showcase the idea that he not only survived the coronavirus but dominated it.

While the approach may help him appeal to his base as it did 2016, the strategy has not done enough to win the support of key voting blocs including senior citizens, suburban women and independent voters. Many of them are turning away from Trump this election cycle, dismayed by his administration’s handling of Covid-19.

Now, Trump’s post-Covid macho man routine could become a political liability as cases rise this fall across the nation.

“When he said, ‘Don’t let the virus dominate your life,’ I heard a million epidemiologists cry out in terror,” said Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. “The fact that when Trump recovered, it was all about him beating the virus and not about, ‘I went through this ordeal and here is what we can do to stay safe’ — that is a terrible disservice. As a president, you have the opportunity to educate people every day.”



It’s a much different approach from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a debate coach for Trump’s first presidential debate last month who also contracted Covid-19 around the same time. Upon leaving a weeklong hospital stay, Christie said he was “wrong” for not wearing a mask at the White House and said the president should encourage Americans to wear them.

Trump’s portrayal of his health has long been an avenue for him to display his tough-guy cred. It’s carried from his time as a high-profile marketer to his 2016 campaign, when his doctor released an exaggerated assessment of his health, to his genuine aversion to germs as president in order to avoid getting sick.

Privately, the president has long bragged to staff about his ability to outlast them on long travel days and at rallies. He views the length of his speeches as a transactional way to reciprocate the enthusiasm of his supporters, one aide said.

One former senior administration official joked Trump would speak for more than 90 minutes at a nighttime rally, board Air Force One, eat a cheeseburger and keep working with phone calls and meetings — feeding into the portrayal of his desire to appear to work all of the time.

“The president obviously talks about his IQ and personal fitness a lot,” said a second former senior administration official, who said much of the White House staff recognized it as hyperbole. “He usually does it to compare himself favorably to others.”

Trump is also incredibly protective of any information about his health, viewing it as one of the last bastions of his privacy, say current and former senior administration officials. The president and his aides still have not made public why he made an unannounced trip to Walter Reed hospital for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon last November.

People familiar with the episode say the visit did appear on the White House’s internal schedule in advance. At the time, the White House doctor said Trump was not evaluated for any chest pain, urgent or acute issues, nor did he undergo any specialized cardiac or neurologic evaluations. But Americans still do not know why Trump needed to make the visit at all, when so much medical care and equipment is available at the White House. It left unanswered numerous questions about his health, much as his recovery from Covid-19 did.

Trump has treated his Covid-19 recovery and the outbreak among White House staff and advisers as a problem he can overcome in this final stretch of the election through a frenzied schedule of rallies and events in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina, as if the pace of the activity will make voters forget about his brush with the sometimes-deadly virus.

Last week, he told supporters in Pennsylvania that once he took some drugs for the coronavirus, he “felt like Superman.”

He has said repeatedly that the country was “rounding the corner” on Covid-19, even as health experts warned of a third spike of infections and an explosion of cases heading into the late fall and winter.

In his NBC town hall on Thursday, Trump spoke disparagingly about masks saying incorrectly that 85 percent of people who wear masks catch the virus. Health officials widely agree on masks as a low-tech way to stop the spread of the airborne droplets that can spread Covid-19.

By contrast, first lady Melania Trump used her own experience with Covid to try to empathize with the millions of Americans touched by the pandemic either through health problems or the resulting economic fallout.

“When my husband was taken to Walter Reed as a precaution, I spent much of my time reflecting on my family,” she wrote in a statement last week. “I also thought about the hundreds of thousands of people across our country who have been impacted by this illness that infects people with no discrimination.”

Unlike the first lady, the president did not use his Covid-19 diagnosis to connect with a broader swath of Americans or speak to their plight in navigating health care during a pandemic.

“What Trump most fears and denies is weakness,” said Tony Schwartz, the author who ghost-wrote “Trump: The Art of the Deal” and just published a memoir titled “Dealing with the Devil: My Mother, Trump and Me.” “I can only imagine he found it virtually intolerable to be in a hospital. ‘I am not a sick person, ever’ is how he sees himself.”

“He has always defined every outcome as a victory even when it wasn’t,” Schwartz added, saying half of the business transactions mentioned in “The Art of the Deal” actually were failures. “Trump’s advantage in promoting himself is that a victory is a victory, but he also declares victory in defeat.”

Opinion | Could Fracking Actually Help the Climate?


Hydraulic fracturing — the controversial oil and gas extraction method usually called “fracking” — has divided Democrats and the political left for a decade now. Many in the environmental community claim that allowing fracking is incompatible with climate action. Others, including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, take a more nuanced position: During their respective debates, both Biden and Harris emphasized that a Biden-Harris administration would not ban fracking.

While most environmental groups tend to be on the side of a ban, there are actually strong environmental justifications for Biden and Harris’s light touch on fracking today. In fact, there are reasons to worry that even a partial ban on fracking could slow decarbonization efforts in the near-term. What’s more, the deployment of some clean energy technologies could depend, perhaps counterintuitively, on fracking.

Fracking, which involves pumping chemicals at high pressure underground to extract gas from shale rock formations, has driven a revolution in the U.S. fossil fuel sector, doubling natural gas production since 2005. That surge has pushed down prices dramatically, making natural gas-fired electricity much more cost competitive with coal power. Today, coal accounts for only 23 percent of U.S. electricity generation, compared to over 50 percent two decades ago; much of that shift is due to the fracking boom.

According to the federal Energy Information Administration, coal-to-gas switching has driven the majority of CO2 emissions reductions in the power sector every year since 2005. And while methane releases are an important downside to gas use that needs to be better addressed, even taking them into account, natural gas is still better for the climate than coal.

Another fear of environmentalists is that the expansion of natural gas will slow the adoption of cleaner renewable energy. But the shale gas revolution has not demonstrably reduced the impressive growth of solar and wind power. Since 2005, wind generation has risen by over a factor of 15, and solar by over a factor of 140. Experts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have observed that, because natural gas plants are so flexible in terms of when they start and stop production, they actually pair well with solar and wind power, whose output is intermittent.

By all appearances, natural gas production in the United States has acted exactly like the “bridge fuel” many imagined it would, providing an interim step in energy development from legacy fuels like coal and oil to the renewables of the future. It is a bridge that will ultimately have to end to meet the Biden campaign’s goal to decarbonize the power sector by 2035, but in the meantime natural gas is both helping dismantle the old fossil fuel economy while laying the groundwork for a new, renewable one.

Biden and Harris are clearly not interested in cutting that bridge off abruptly, a step that would offer a lifeline to coal power which is currently operating at less than half capacity and could easily ramp back up if gas prices rise. Nor are they likely interested in scaring away voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other oil-and-gas-heavy swing states. What’s more, since the vast majority of U.S. fracking occurs on private lands, even the Biden campaign promise to end new fracking leases on public lands might amount to little more than a symbolic gesture.

But while a ban on fracking on public lands would likely have little impact on total U.S. natural gas production, it could do serious harm to another renewable energy sector: new enhanced geothermal systems. This technology, known as EGS, often depends on hydraulic fracturing technologies and techniques to extract heat from deep rock formations. And though geothermal generated only 0.4 percent of U.S. electricity in 2019, there are signs that it could be on the verge of a boom; one estimate suggests that EGS systems could supply 1,300 times more energy than conventional geothermal technologies.



This is where avoiding a blanket ban on new fracking on public lands could be critical. Unlike natural gas, the best geothermal resources are spread across the American West, where the federal government manages almost half the land. So while the limited impact on natural gas production might well be an intentional feature of the Biden-Harris plan, the possible impacts on the nascent geothermal industry are certainly a bug.

Restricting natural gas development would have knock-on effects on other industries that also need to be considered. The electric power sector only consumes about a third of the natural gas produced in the United States. Another third goes to industrial applications, such as synthetic fertilizer and petrochemicals production. Unlike electric power, there are currently few affordable and scalable technological alternatives to natural gas in these industries. Ending natural gas consumption in our factories will require technological innovation of similar scale and scope to what we’ve achieved in the electric power sector. Limits on supply will have limited effect until that point given the lack of alternatives.

We may even want to produce some natural gas in the long term. Energy experts increasingly agree that more firm, non-intermittent clean generation — geothermal, advanced nuclear, gas with carbon capture — as well as cheaper energy storage, electricity grid modernization and expansion, are all needed to support large amounts of intermittent renewables. There are reasons to be hopeful about a new generation of integrated natural gas with carbon capture power plants — a technology that can capture CO2 from gas generation and bury it in stable underground geological formations. So-called “Allam cycle” plants may be able to capture carbon emissions for storage or reuse with relatively low costs. Carbon capture on electric power and industrial plants could keep natural gas around for a long time, just with a fraction of the CO2 the emissions.

Of course, to achieve a truly low-carbon economy, the “natural gas bridge” must end at some point. While gas has around half the long-term climate impact of coal, half the emissions is still far too high given that we ultimately need to bring emissions all the way down to zero to stop climate change. The success of a new generation of carbon capture technologies might allow for a low-carbon future without an end to fracking. Or, perhaps, solar, wind, advanced nuclear, EGS, and other low-carbon alternatives might obviate the need for much if any fracking in the future.

Either way we need to prioritize closing coal plants in the short-term, and move away from natural gas by gradually replacing it with clean energy alternatives; abruptly ending fracking today would make that decarbonization process harder, not easier.

The race to be Biden’s secretary of State is already underway


The race to serve as Joe Biden’s secretary of State has already begun, and the signs are surprisingly obvious if you know where to look.

Did you see the George Will column about why Biden should pick Chris Coons? Or the Jewish Insider story filled with quotes about how great the Delaware senator would be at Foggy Bottom? Or Coons’ essay in Foreign Affairs earlier this month? If you want to know more, supporters of Coons have crafted an informal five-page, bullet-pointed document making the case for why a future President Biden should name him America’s top diplomat.

Another Democratic senator, Connecticut’s Chris Murphy, may also be in the mix. He keeps popping up on panels about foreign policy, penning columns on international affairs and pushing bills that put him at odds with President Donald Trump on global issues. Murphy also happens to be a favorite of progressives trying to influence Biden’s personnel choices.

His aides point out that Murphy has been speaking out on foreign policy for years, and that he’s simply passionate about the issue. Still, his frenzy of activity in recent months has not gone unnoticed by people in and around the Biden campaign.

Then there are Bidenworld insiders who need no promotional campaign: Susan Rice, the hard-charging former national security adviser who was in the mix to serve as Biden’s vice president and is widely assumed to be a lock for a top administration job; and Antony Blinken, the smooth-talking former deputy secretary of State who is now a top Biden campaign aide.

In discussions with various foreign policy observers, POLITICO has heard around 10 names overall, from Foreign Service luminaries such as William Burns to way-outside-the-box picks like Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.

Biden himself has offered few clues into his thinking, though his long history as a foreign policy specialist — and his campaign comments on the subject — suggests he would make diplomacy a priority. The former vice president also tends to surround himself with a small coterie of trusted advisers, from family members like his sister Valerie to longtime aides like Mike Donilon and Steve Ricchetti — suggesting he’s unlikely to tap an outsider.

“The president is going to want to pick somebody who obviously is qualified, but also can have a close working relationship with him," said Richard Fontaine, chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security. “Secretaries of State are always more effective when they’re close to the president.”

Aside from his personal comfort level, Biden also has to consider other factors, including: Who would face challenges being confirmed by the Senate? Who will constituencies like progressives want for the job? And what about the promises he’s made to have a diverse Cabinet?



The GOP whisperer

Of the potential candidates for the job, Coons, who now holds the Senate seat once held by Biden, comes closest to openly admitting he wants it.

“Joe Biden and I have very similar, closely aligned views on foreign policy,” he said in a statement. “He’s got a lot of great folks from whom to choose, but if he were to consider me as well, I’d certainly be honored.”

In his messaging so far, Coons has cast himself as a bipartisan dealmaker in Biden’s mold — someone willing to reach across the proverbial aisle to craft a foreign policy that appeals to Republicans and Democrats alike.

“For the United States to play a steady, stabilizing role in world affairs, its allies and adversaries must know that its government speaks with one voice and that its policies won’t shift dramatically with changing domestic political winds,” Coons argued in an Oct. 7 essay in Foreign Affairs, titled “A Bipartisan Foreign Policy is Still Possible.”

The informal document Coons’ supporters have put together notes, among other things, his service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his interest in African affairs. It also points out that Coons has good relationships with Republicans, suggesting that he’ll have
a relatively easy time getting Senate approval.

The left’s man

Murphy, meanwhile, has aligned himself with the increasingly outspoken progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Progressives are not only intent on ousting Trump, they want to influence Biden’s personnel choices, knowing that can shape his policy. Their vision — which calls for a reduction in military spending, more emphasis on diplomacy and putting economic issues more at the center of foreign policy — appears to have influenced Biden’s foreign policy platform.

Murphy has raised his profile in recent years, using his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to call for a fresh approach to the foreign affairs budget and draw attention to conflicts in places like Yemen.

He has appeared in a variety of foreign policy forums throughout the 2020 campaign, a guest of groups like the Council on Foreign Relations. He drew ire from Trump for meeting with Iran’s foreign minister earlier this year, a session he defended by saying, “It’s dangerous to not talk to your enemies.” Murphy also is the driving force behind legislation — rejected by Trump — that restricts U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which, like Iran, is involved in the Yemen war.

A year ago, Murphy published an essay titled “How to Make a Progressive Foreign Policy Actually Work.” It was something of a call for humility and pragmatism on both sides of the burgeoning debate between progressives and establishment Democrats over foreign policy. Its impact on the debate itself has been limited, but it helped fan questions about Murphy’s intentions.



“Progressives should rethink their reflexive opposition to international trade agreements,” Murphy argues in one section. “Yes, a progressive president should fight for greater worker and environmental standards in trade agreements like [the Trans Pacific Partnership], but it would be foolish to simply cede economic hegemony in Asia to China by refusing to try to reconstruct a U.S.-Asia trade agreement.”

Murphy’s activities have drawn attention among Biden hands, but the senator’s aides downplay the idea that he’s auditioning for Foggy Bottom. They point out that he’s been talking about foreign policy for years — he co-authored a Foreign Affairs essay back in 2015 titled “Principles for a Progressive Foreign Policy.”

“He is honored to serve the people of Connecticut in the United States Senate, and there’s a lot to be done in his current job to reassert Congress’ role in foreign policy,” said Jamie Geller, a Murphy spokesperson. “He will continue to work to ensure that U.S. national security is informed and guided by progressive values at home and abroad.”

The trusted hand

If Biden wins, the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic devastation is likely to consume his early months. Current and former U.S. officials say that could lead him to choose a secretary of State with past experience at the State Department because the person wouldn’t need much on-the-job-training in Foggy Bottom.

That makes Rice — an experienced foreign policy hand who’s held jobs all the way from junior NSC staffer to top Africa diplomat to U.N. ambassador to national security adviser — an appealing option for secretary of State.

She and Biden are said to have a warm relationship, though they disagreed over how to deal with tumult in places like Egypt and Libya when Biden was vice president. As a measure of his esteem, Biden seriously considered Rice as a potential running mate but went instead with California Sen. Kamala Harris. Rice, who is Black, also is one of the few women and people of color being mentioned as a potential chief U.S. diplomat.

Getting Rice confirmed as secretary of State could be difficult. Republicans long ago cast her as a villain, alleging she misled the public about the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya. Rice has pointed out that she was simply sharing talking points prepared by intelligence officials, but Republicans have repeatedly dismissed her defenses.


The political assaults were believed to be why her young daughter temporarily complained of having hallucinations, Rice wrote in a memoir published last year. The attacks prompted Rice to take herself out of the running to be Obama’s second-term secretary of State, becoming national security adviser instead.

More recently, Trump and his allies have alleged that Rice was part of a broader conspiracy to undermine the president. They claim she acted improperly when she requested the identities of some Americans referenced in intelligence reports who turned out to be Trump associates. Rice insists she did nothing wrong and came across the names as part of her routine duties as national security adviser; a Justice Department probe into the so-called unmasking of Trump aides quietly wrapped up in recent weeks with no charges filed and no public report.

Rice declined to comment for this story via a spokesperson. Although she’s active on Twitter, appears on television as a Biden surrogate and writes columns for The New York Times, she’s not openly saying she wants the role of chief diplomat — but she’s not deflecting the idea, either.

The Biden insider

Rice’s top rival could be Blinken, 58, a longtime Biden aide and a key member of his 2020 campaign team.

Blinken declined to comment for this article, but he was practically bred for the job: He's a polished Harvard graduate whose father, Donald, also a Harvard graduate, was an investment banker who served as a U.S. ambassador to Hungary. The younger Blinken attended high school in Paris, has worked as a journalist and as a lawyer, and has held positions in the Clinton and Obama administrations. He’s also spent time on Capitol Hill, where he was Democratic staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair.

Blinken has been a key intermediary for Biden throughout the campaign; he meets on a regular basis, for instance, with a handful of progressive groups trying to shape Biden’s foreign policy.

During the Obama years, Blinken served as deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of State. But while Blinken would be fluent in State Department matters, foreign policy doyens expect Biden will want him close by in the White House, possibly as national security adviser.



Don’t count them out

Other prominent Obama-era appointees who could be in the running, foreign affairs analysts say, include: Samantha Power, who served on the National Security Council and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Tom Donilon, a former Obama national security adviser who has long known Biden; and Wendy Sherman, a key architect of the Iran nuclear deal who served as undersecretary of State for political affairs.

Some current and former diplomats say Biden should seriously consider tapping a current or former Foreign Service officer as his secretary of State. That would signal to State Department employees that he’s got their backs.

Under Trump, many U.S. diplomats have been marginalized and cast as a “deep state” determined to wreck the president’s agenda. Trump has also repeatedly tried to slash the State Department’s budget by as much as a third, but Congress has blocked that.

“It’s critical that the next secretary of State not just be the diplomat-in-chief but also be able to repair the State Department after the damage the Trump administration has done,” a former Obama-era State Department official said.

Among the favorite potential candidates with deep department ties is William Burns, a longtime Foreign Service officer who served as deputy secretary of State under Obama. He is now the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Another possible Foreign Service-related choice is Nicholas Burns, whose positions at the State Department included undersecretary of State for political affairs during the George W. Bush years. He now teaches at Harvard.

While neither is openly campaigning for the secretary of State position, both are overseeing or involved in projects that tackle big-picture questions about where U.S. foreign policy is heading.

Nicholas Burns’ initiative, called the American Diplomacy Project, is designed to produce a nonpartisan report after the election that lays out how “to rebuild the Foreign Service for the next half-century,” according to an announcement in April.

At Carnegie, William Burns has been involved with a project titled “Making U.S. Foreign Policy Work Better for the Middle Class.” The project addresses what is at times a seeming disconnect between U.S. foreign policy choices and economic decisions that affect ordinary Americans.

In an essay he co-authored for Foreign Affairs, William Burns laid out the stark challenge facing whoever is chosen as Biden’s secretary of State.

“After four years of relentless attacks by the Trump administration and decades of neglect, political paralysis, and organizational drift, U.S. diplomacy is badly broken. But it is not beyond repair, at least not yet,” the essay states. “What is needed now is a great renewal of diplomatic capacity, an effort that balances ambition with the limits of the possible at a moment of growing difficulties at home and abroad.”

Biden’s aides and allies would prefer not to discuss possible personnel choices — the election could still go either way, they say, and they are laser-focused on beating Trump above all else. Neither of the Burnses (who are not related) offered comment for this story. Donilon declined to comment, while Sherman and Power did not respond to requests for comment.

Transition planning for a Biden presidency has been under way for months, with both paid and unpaid advisers playing a role. Recently, the transition team not-so-subtly told people who are already jockeying for Cabinet posts to knock it off.

“Our focus between now and Election Day is on defeating Donald Trump and uniting our country to face the crises he has failed to address,” said Michael Gwin, a campaign spokesperson. “The work of rebuilding our government to face those challenges will come after that.”

Biden would revamp fraying intel community


President Donald Trump was in the middle of receiving a highly classified briefing on Afghanistan at his New Jersey golf club when he suddenly craved a malted milkshake.

“Does anyone want a malt?” he asked the senior defense and intelligence officials gathered around him, an august group that included the head of the CIA’s Special Activities Center, which is responsible for covert operations and paramilitary operations. “We have the best malts, you have to try them,” Trump insisted, as he beckoned a waiter into the room where code-word classified intelligence was being discussed.

The malt episode, which took place a few months after Trump took office in 2017, became legendary inside the CIA, said three former officials. It was seen as an early harbinger of Trump’s disinterest in intelligence, which would later be borne out by the new president’s notorious resistance to reading his classified daily briefing, known as the PDB, and his impatience with the briefers, current and former officials said.

But what initially seemed like mere boredom — which demoralized intelligence officials but could potentially be managed by including pictures and charts in briefings to hold the president’s attention — later morphed into something the officials saw as more sinister: an interest in wielding intelligence as a political cudgel. Whether selectively declassified by spy chiefs he installed for their loyalty, or obscured from congressional and public scrutiny if it conflicted with his preferred narrative, intelligence became just another weapon in the president’s arsenal.

Trump’s actions, and the endless partisan battles over the Russia probe and impeachment, have left the intelligence community bruised and battered. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s advisers and allies in Congress are already thinking about what a heavy lift it will be to restore morale inside the agencies, legitimacy on Capitol Hill and public trust in the intelligence community’s leadership should Biden defeat Trump in November, according to more than a dozen people close to the candidate.

“This will be among the most important things a President Biden would need to do—and that he’ll want to do—immediately,” said Tony Blinken, who served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser under Barack Obama and is a top adviser to the Biden campaign. “I know from several conversations with him about this that he has deep concern about what has been done to the IC these last several years in terms of the politicization, and repairing that starts at the top with the president.”

Blinken recalled Biden telling him in February 2017, shortly after leaving office, that the thing he missed most about being vice president was receiving the PDB every morning.


“He said he felt so connected to what was going on around the world thanks to the PDB, and that losing that connection felt like a real void,” Blinken said. “I think that is evidence of the basic value he placed on the work of the intelligence community, because the PDB is of course their most important product.”

One approach Biden is considering, others said: placing people in charge who are experienced and who are already familiar faces to the intelligence community and its oversight bodies.

There’s precedent for holding over senior national security officials from one administration to the next — George Tenet, for instance, served as CIA director under both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, while Bob Gates became Obama’s defense secretary after several years with Bush.

But there appears to be little appetite for that kind of bipartisan gesture now. When Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe canceled in-person election security briefings for lawmakers over the summer, Biden accused the Trump administration of hoping Russian President Vladimir Putin would “once more boost” Trump’s candidacy.

"This is not how democracy works," Biden said at the time. "But it is how American national security and sovereignty are violated."

“A couple of people at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence would have to go, absolutely,” said former CIA and NSA Director Gen. Michael Hayden, referring to Trump’s stocking the office with loyalists, like Ratcliffe, over the last few months. The former Texas lawmaker’s scant intelligence experience — fewer than two years on the House Intelligence Committee — was among the issues that scuttled his confirmation prospects when he was first nominated by Trump last year.

“Probably Gina Haspel would have to go, too,” Hayden said.

Haspel, a career intelligence official who became the agency’s first female director in May 2018, has rankled some current and former officials by at times appearing overly willing to appease the president. She has clamped down on the flow of Russia intelligence to Trump—who is known to erupt in anger whenever confronted with news of Moscow’s malign activities in the U.S.—and stood and clapped for his state of the union address earlier this year, a move out of step with past directors’ efforts to appear apolitical.

“Gina is a good woman, but she would have to go,” Hayden said.

The Biden campaign has been considering a couple of veteran national security hands who could serve in senior intelligence roles in a Biden administration and hit the ground running to repair what they see as the damage Trump has done to the intelligence community over the last four years, people familiar with the internal discussions said. Among the names is former acting CIA director Michael Morell, former Obama national security adviser and close Biden confidant Tom Donilon, former Obama deputy national security adviser Avril Haines, former Deputy NSA Director Chris Inglis, and former deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Robert Cardillo.

“There is no question that Biden and his team will have an urgent task in restoring faith, trust, competence, and morale in the intelligence community,” said former NSA general counsel Glenn Gerstell, who retired earlier this year. “It’s going to be a huge effort.”

He added that a Biden administration will need to pull off a revolution in how the intelligence community thinks about and responds to a changing world—complex, transnational threats like climate change and pandemics—following the reduced focus on the war on terror and the onrush of new technologies.


“That transformation, which should have occurred in earnest years ago, has to be accelerated under Biden,” Gerstell said, “or else we will be so far behind China we won’t be able to ever catch up. With ODNI having four directors and being so distracted, we mostly blew four years at a time when every moment counts.”

Trump’s prevailing attitude toward the intelligence community, current and former officials said, has been that he knows better—and that the agencies therefore need to be constrained to better align with his priorities.

He has also repeatedly made clear his distrust of the intelligence community, from comparing them to Nazis before he was even inaugurated to discarding their analysis of Russia’s 2016 election interference in favor of Vladimir Putin’s denials. He often uses quotation marks around the word “intelligence” in his tweets to signal his disdain. And he has been reckless with classified information, from revealing highly sensitive secrets about ISIS to the Russians in the Oval Office to tweeting out sensitive images of Iran taken by one of the U.S.’s most advanced spy satellites.

"I think we need somebody like that that's strong and can really rein it in,” Trump said last year, when outlining why he wanted Ratcliffe to replace Dan Coats, a respected former Indiana lawmaker who often resisted the president as ODNI chief. “As you've all learned, the intelligence agencies have run amok,” Trump added. “They've run amok."

In some ways, the reins of the intelligence and defense communities have been loosened under Trump, current and former officials said. NSA Director Paul Nakasone, for example, has been “unshackled,” as Wired put it, to wage more offensive cyber operations against adversaries than previous administrations ever allowed.

And Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who served as the director for European Affairs on Trump’s NSC until February, said the degree to which Trump has “shaken the faith in the executive branch” could undermine the progress that the Pentagon and intelligence community have made in responding more quickly to various threats, particularly in cyberspace. “That is another, in certain ways more troubling, issue that will have to be managed,” he said in an interview.

A president should always have a healthy skepticism of intelligence, be willing to ask tough questions, and demand accountability, said former CIA Director John Brennan, who served from March 2013 to January 2017 and is now one of Trump’s fiercest critics. His new book, "Undaunted," outlines some disagreements he had with then-Vice President Biden, for example, on issues including the Osama bin Laden raid and the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

“I remember [former DNI] Jim Clapper and myself would be in NSC meetings in the Situation Room, and we knew we'd be the skunk at the party because we would be presenting intelligence that might be at odds with the prevailing view,” Brennan said. “I was questioned on it, challenged on it, and rightly so. But I never felt that they didn't want to hear it.”

Hayden echoed that sentiment. “Many times I disagreed with Biden,” he said. “And that’s OK!”

Biden served on the Senate Intelligence Committee for a decade before entering the White House and was rarely seen in his West Wing office without a copy of the PDB under his arm, his former aides said.

He is the “diametric opposite of Trump” in that respect, said a former senior administration official. In a 2009 speech for the swearing-in ceremony of Leon Panetta as CIA director, Biden said, “The most important thing for this job, in my view … is to give the president of the United States the unvarnished truth, not what he thinks the president may want to hear.”

It’s a sentiment seldom heard from Trump, who has instilled a sense in some intelligence professionals that they have to be careful not to present information that might conflict with his political agenda. He fired the former acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, earlier this year for allowing a subordinate to brief lawmakers on Russia’s interference in 2020. And there’s been “tip-toeing” around Congress among analysts and briefers wary of their findings getting back to the president, as one former senior intelligence official put it — particularly in the presence of staunch Trump ally and Gang of 8 member Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

The fear of provoking Trump’s wrath led to a months-long standoff earlier this year between Congress and ODNI officials, who pushed for the annual Worldwide Threats hearing to be held behind closed doors so that the agency directors would not be seen publicly contradicting the president on key issues like Iran, North Korea and Russia. (CIA officials have had some trouble getting through to the president on issues related to North Korea, former officials said, beginning early on in his presidency when he instructed them to consult with former professional basketball player Dennis Rodman on the subject.)

Over the summer, a DHS whistleblower alleged that intelligence on Russia’s malign activities in the U.S. and the domestic terror threat posed by white supremacists was also being suppressed by senior DHS leadership so as not to anger Trump, though the White House pushed back on the claim.

“For many of us, Biden’s demeanor in and of itself is like the healing balm we all need,” said Elizabeth Neumann, who served as assistant secretary of counterterrorism and threat prevention at DHS until earlier this year and has been outspoken about the department’s politicization of intelligence under Trump.

“And we don’t want to get into a tit-for-tat, with the Biden administration just focusing on vengeance,” continued Neumann, who has endorsed Biden. “But it will be really important to acknowledge that there has been a brain drain of good, competent, and qualified intelligence leaders under this administration, and these people should be given an opportunity to come back into government.”


One that immediately comes to mind, Neumann said, is former counterterrorism chief Russ Travers, who alerted the former IC inspector general Michael Atkinson earlier this year to his concerns over the shrinking budgets and resources available to the intelligence community. Travers was removed from his post in March by Ric Grenell, a Trump devotee who pushed through a number of controversial moves during his brief stint as acting director.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a former CIA analyst, said in an interview that “a targeted callback” of officers who were forced out or resigned under Trump might be one way of getting some of that expertise back.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, agreed and pointed to Sue Gordon, a career official and former Coats deputy who was well-respected on both sides of the aisle and within the agencies but left the administration after Trump ousted her boss.

"I think that to the extent that we could attract some of these people back to public service, even in a transitional role, to build up a little bit of trust again with people that are known inside the intelligence community and liked and trusted also by Congress, I think that might not be a bad idea," Krishnamoorthi said.

Another task for a Biden administration will be to identify “who in the senior ranks may have been supportive and complicit in politicization of intelligence,” Slotkin said. “If those people are still in their jobs, there should at a minimum be some pretty clear conversations—and, at a maximum, to me, it's probably not the right career for them.”

Vindman, who was forced out of government following his impeachment testimony against Trump, said he was unnerved by the “creep of politicization” within the defense and intelligence community before he was effectively forced to resign from the military earlier this year after he testified at Trump’s impeachment trial.

“In many ways, I am a victim of that trend,” he said, “because under normal circumstances, you would expect senior leadership to defend their people aggressively—especially people doing the right thing. So that authoritarian mindset that has infiltrated these institutions will have to be undone by a Biden administration through a protracted period of confidence-building.”

To that end, Krishnamoorthi said it would be important for Congress to partner with a potential President Biden on whistleblower reforms and other measures introduced by Democratic lawmakers to help insulate the intelligence community from politics. Trump repeatedly and publicly attacked the whistleblower whose complaint led to his impeachment proceedings, and fired the intelligence community watchdog, Michael Atkinson, who brought the complaint to Congress—one of five inspectors general Trump dismissed in the space of six weeks earlier this year.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), also a member of the House Intelligence Committee, encouraged Biden to back legislation protecting the independence of inspectors general and whistleblowers that Democrats recently unveiled as part of a post-Watergate-style reform package.

"Fundamentally, the key thing is that there must be trust between the oversight committees and the intelligence community and that starts at the top," Maloney said, adding that it was “time to show the political hacks the door and bring back the nonpolitical professionals who care about our country's national security and who will tell it to us straight regardless of the politics.”

Twitter blocks tweet from Trump adviser downplaying masks


NEW YORK — Twitter blocked a post Sunday from an adviser to President Donald Trump who suggested that masks do not work to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Scott Atlas, who joined the White House in August as a science adviser, had tweeted “Masks work? NO,” and said widespread use of masks is not supported.

The tweet violated a Twitter policy that prohibits sharing false or misleading misinformation about COVID-19 that could lead to harm, a company spokesperson said. The policy bans statements that have been confirmed to be false or misleading by experts such as public health authorities.

In such cases, Twitter disables the account until its owner deletes the post in question.

Trump has downplayed the importance of masks in reducing the spread of the virus, even after he contracted the disease, which has killed more than 215,000 Americans.

“I don’t understand why the tweets were deleted,” Atlas said in an email, calling Twitter’s actions censorship. He said his tweet was intended to show that “general population masks and mask mandates do not work,” and he clarified that the correct policy is to use masks when one cannot socially distance. Atlas added that infections exploded even with mandates in Los Angeles County, Miami-Dade County, Hawaii, Alabama, the Philippines, Japan and other places.

Researchers have concluded that masks can control the spread of the virus, and public health experts have urged the public to wear them. But Trump and his team often go without masks while campaigning.

Atlas, the former chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center and a fellow at Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution, has no expertise in public health or infectious diseases. He has criticized the coronavirus lockdowns and campaigned for children to return to classrooms. Some scientists view Atlas as promoting dangerous theories around “herd immunity.”

Last week, Twitter and Facebook moved quickly to limit the spread of an unverified political story published by the conservative-leaning New York Post. The story cited unverified emails from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, and it has not been confirmed by other publications. There have been no new tweets from the Post since Oct. 14, indicating Twitter may still be blocking the newspaper’s tweets.

States brace for surge of voter registrations as deadlines near


A cut cable, an equipment failure at a data center, an online traffic overload that crashed a website — online voter registration systems have already had their share of snafus this election season, amid record-breaking registration totals in battleground states. With registration deadlines approaching in more than a dozen states, voting rights groups and party officials warn there could be more glitches on the horizon, resulting in the disenfranchisement of would-be voters.

Registration deadlines were extended last week in Virginia and two weeks ago in Florida after web outages prevented residents from registering online for hours, prompting lawsuits from voting rights groups and even allegations of voter suppression.

Jeanette Senecal, senior director of mission impact at the League of Women Voters, said other states should be taking the outages seriously because online systems in states across the country sometimes fail even on regular days.

“It can also forecast problems with the state system to support their polling place finder or their ballot lookup or their voter verification system,” she warned. “All of these systems to tend to be connected to one another.”

With President Donald Trump on the ballot against former Vice President Joe Biden and control of the Senate up for grabs, the general election could see record turnout. More than 27 million Americans have already voted, one-fifth of the total votes tallied in the 2016 presidential race, according to the U.S. Elections Project, and several battleground states are seeing more registrations than ever before.

Georgia reported a record-high of nearly 7.6 million registered voters, 734,000 of whom registered online. A court extended Arizona’s Oct. 5 deadline to last Thursday, though a record-high almost 4 million residents had already registered to vote as of August, according to the secretary of state’s office.

More than 14.4 million voters have registered in Florida, its Department of State said last week, a total that bests its 2016 figure by more than 1 million. Almost 8.1 million Ohioans were registered to vote as of Wednesday, the secretary of state’s office said, narrowly topping its 2018 high. And nearly 3.4 million voters are registered in South Carolina, outpacing totals from the 2016 and 2018 elections.

Americans are turning to online voter registration as a safe method during a coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 8 million Americans and killed upwards of 219,000 people in the U.S. “This year, clearly with Covid, more people are relying on online systems than in past years because in-person activities are just not as acceptable and available as they have been in the past,” Senecal said.

That surge in online registration, however, has caused its own headaches.



A federal judge in Virginia last week extended the state’s voter registration deadline to 11:59 p.m. Thursday. The original deadline was Tuesday, the same day the website crashed after a cable was severed. U.S. District Judge John Gibney Jr. said the outage caused “a tremendous harm” to people who wanted to register to vote.

Florida extended its Oct. 5 deadline to 7 p.m. on Oct. 6 after its system crashed two weeks ago. Secretary of State Laurel Lee said that at one point the state’s voter registration website was accessed by more than 1 million requests per hour, “an extremely high volume of traffic.”

Voting rights groups filed suit in Florida and Virginia following the deadline day snafus, warning that the outages disenfranchised people who tried to register but couldn’t. The Florida Democratic Party called the website malfunction “blatant voter suppression,” and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said the state’s online system “has a suspect history of crashing just before key deadlines,” blaming Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Lee, the secretary of state, for knowing but doing nothing.

Voting rights groups in Virginia similarly noted that Tuesday wasn’t the first time Virginia’s system has failed. “This now marks two presidential election cycles in a row in which the state’s registration system has collapsed,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement, “and we hope that this will counsel in favor of stronger systems and backstops to prevent mass disenfranchisement in the future.”


Louisiana also suffered a recent system failure — albeit last month, on National Voter Registration Day. Its website went down for three-and-a-half hours due to what Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin called “an unfortunate error” that allowed routine maintenance to occur that night. Democratic New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell called the mistake “beyond reprehensible” and a “dereliction of duty” by the Republican official at a critical time.

And Pennsylvania's voter registration web page and other online services went dark over the first weekend of October after equipment at a data center broke.

While it’s unclear how many people were unable to register during the outages, Senecal from the League of Women Voters said many of those people do come back and try again.

“One of the things that’s really helpful is that a number of organizations like the league, we have systems where voters can start or complete their registration process online, so we actually know if there are people who try to start the process, say in Virginia, and weren’t able to complete it,” she said. “We can then follow up with those people … All of the nonprofits who do this type of work that are using systems that enable that have the ability to reach back out to their voters.”

Despite the recent website outages in Virginia, Florida, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, some officials in states with upcoming voter registration deadlines are expressing confidence that their systems will operate smoothly.

POLITICO reached out to elections offices in five states with registration deadlines in the next week — four battlegrounds and California. Two expressed confidence in their systems to withstand any surge, and one said the issue needed to be discussed internally before commenting publicly.

“We are confident in the ability of our system to handle registration requests up to and through Election Day, as is allowed by Michigan law,” said Aneta Kiersnowski, press secretary of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Michigan is one of several states whose voter registration deadline is on Monday. But Michigan is “an automatic voter registration state, meaning any time you conduct a transaction at our branch offices, you are either registered or your registration is updated unless you decline it,” Kiersnowski said. “Our deadlines and this process allows the volume of registrations and updates to be better spread out over time.”

Kevin Hall, a spokesperson for Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, said, “We have confidence in the system.” Iowa’s Oct. 24 deadline “is a preregistration deadline,” Hall added, noting that that Iowans can register up to and on Election Day at the polls. Nineteen other states and Washington, D.C., also allow people to register in person on Election Day.

An automated email reply from the Pennsylvania Department of State encouraged a POLITICO reporter to call the office for “urgent matters,” citing delayed email response times due to an increase in inquiries. The reporter was No. 26 in a queue but hung up after more than 90 minutes of hold music.

Other states didn’t respond to a request for comment.


Even though elections officials have projected confidence that no digital issues will plague them, elected officials and party officials were more wary.

Brendan Welch, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, highlighted in-person alternatives, “[i]n the event that the SURE (Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors) system does have issues on Monday,” the commonwealth’s registration deadline.

“Nobody can say they’re not worried this election year. You can’t,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said in an interview. “You wouldn’t be sane if you weren’t worried.”

But in Michigan, she said, Benson, the secretary of state, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and others are working hard to make sure people get registered and vote.

“I’m not saying I’m not worried,” Dingell said, “but I sure know we’re working hard to try to address all the problems.”

Former Democratic power broker James A. Johnson dies at 76


MINNEAPOLIS — James A. Johnson, a former Democratic campaign operative who was CEO of housing lender Fannie Mae in the 1990s and served as chairman of Walter Mondale’s presidential bid, died Sunday at his home in Washington. He was 76.

Johnson’s son, Alfred, confirmed that his father had died, telling The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal that the cause was complications from a neurological condition.

A native of Benson, Minnesota, and the son of a prominent state lawmaker, Johnson had a political, cultural and business resume that prompted Harold M. Ickes, President Bill Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, to dub him “the chairman of the universe.” Johnson chaired the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Brookings Institution think tank and Fannie Mae all at the same time.

Besides running Mondale’s failed run for the White House against Ronald Reagan in 1984, Johnson was a key player in the presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy, Edmund Muskie and George McGovern.

He turned his political savvy into business success. David O. Maxwell, former head of Fannie Mae, hired Johnson as vice chairman in 1990, after Johnson had helped the company hold off privatization efforts by the Reagan administration. Johnson was promoted to chairman and CEO the next year.

Johnson immediately set his sights on maintaining Fannie Mae’s lucrative government privileges and ensuring that new regulations were not overly burdensome. Johnson and his lobbyists helped fashion a 1992 law signed by President George H.W. Bush that aimed to reduce the chance of an expensive taxpayer bailout if Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had bad loans on their books.

It also opened up a new era of home ownership for families who were previously unable to get mortgage loans.

After retiring from Fannie Mae at the end of 1998, Johnson served on the boards of several companies, including UnitedHealth Group, KB Home and Target, and was vice chairman of the Washington private-equity firm Perseus. He had chaired the advisory council of the Stanford Center on Longevity since 2011.

Whitmer to Trump: Talk about the pandemic, not me


Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Sunday that although President Donald Trump incites violence against public servants and inspires domestic terrorism, she would rather focus on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic than his incendiary rhetoric.

“Every moment that we are not focused on the fact that there are 220,000 Americans who died from this virus is good for him,” Whitmer, a Democrat, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview.

“So in that sense, as he incites additional violence against people who are just trying to save one another’s lives, it’s good for him,” she said. “And that’s why I don’t want to talk about him endangering public servants’ lives. I want to talk about what he hasn’t done, and that’s his job.”

The U.S. Covid-19 case count passed 8 million Friday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, and more than 219,000 Americans have died from the disease.

Whitmer’s remarks were apparently in response to Trump’s campaign rally Saturday in Muskegon, Mich., during which he criticized her state’s coronavirus-related restrictions and his supporters broke out into chants of “lock her up.”

The president did not attempt to quell the calls for the governor’s imprisonment, instead saying: “Lock them all up.”

Trump has repeatedly assailed Whitmer’s management of the coronavirus throughout the pandemic, even encouraging his supporters to “LIBERATE” Michigan in April. But his latest attack came less than two weeks after the FBI revealed the governor was the target of a foiled kidnapping plot.

Asked Sunday about Trump’s weekend rally, Whitmer said it was “incredibly disturbing that the president of the United States — 10 days after a plot to kidnap, put me on trial and execute me — 10 days after that was uncovered, the president is at it again and inspiring and incentivizing and inciting this kind of domestic terrorism.”

Whitmer went on to argue that Trump’s language is “dangerous” not only for her family, but for “public servants everywhere who are doing their jobs and trying to protect their fellow Americans.”

The governor previously condemned Trump’s rally remarks in a tweet Saturday evening, writing that his rhetoric “has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans. It needs to stop.”

How Biden destroyed Trump’s TV ad ‘death star’


Football fans in Phoenix will tune their TVs to ESPN to watch their Arizona Cardinals play the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.

They’ll also see Joe Biden running up the score in advertising over President Trump: The Democrat’s campaign is spending nearly $400,000 for three TV spots during the game. Two of them will air locally in the massive Phoenix market – which has more political ads than anywhere else in the nation — and the third will be shown nationally.

Trump is spending just $36,000 on one local spot during the game.

The disparity isn’t just limited to the Monday Night Football game or to Arizona, a once reliably Republican state that’s now a hotly contested battleground. It’s playing out across the dial on TV sets nationwide in the broader presidential campaign. Biden is saturating the airwaves and outgunning his opponent by a margin of about $178 million in ad buys from June 1 through Election Day, according to data from the media-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

Beyond the messages that both sides relay in their commercials, the ad buys themselves tell the story of the state of the presidential race — particularly the way that the Biden campaign deployed freighter-loads of cash to gain an advantage over Trump in national and many battleground polls.

“What Biden’s campaign is doing is pretty unique,” said John Link, vice president of Advertising Analytics, which provided the data for this story.

“They have been able to run a fully funded campaign in a broad array of swing states, while also expanding to national buys allowing them to expand their reach without sacrificing attention to key states and potentially saving money,” Link said.

Of the $421 million Biden has spent and reserved on TV, a higher portion than usual for campaigns — 15 percent — is on nationwide cable and broadcast TV programs seen by the nation’s 208 local markets, whether they’re in a swing state like Arizona, a blue state like Massachusetts or a red state like Idaho.

Biden’s national buys are seen as a key ingredient in making former swing states like Ohio and Iowa look like battlegrounds again. The campaign is advertising heavily on shows such as Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, which are popular among seniors, and older people especially are watching more TV during the pandemic.

Biden’s ad buys are also “deep,” Link noted, spanning 32 networks that range from Fox to Animal Planet to the DIY network and History Channel.

In contrast, Trump is spending on fewer national networks and forking over a smaller share of his ad money on nationwide buys, 13 percent of his $254 million in ad buys. In raw numbers, Biden is spending $63.3 million to Trump’s $34.4 million on national ads, an almost 2-to-1 advantage. Also, for a time, as many as half of Trump’s ads were concentrated on Fox News, which his base watches religiously.

Normally, presidential campaigns prefer a targeted approach of buying ads in local markets in battleground states, with relatively few national buys. That usually means presidential campaigns, in effect, are running 10 or fewer related statewide races.

But in late spring, Biden’s campaign saw the map starting to expand in his favor, with as many as 17 states in play. Trump’s standing in polls were plummeting over his handling of coronavirus while historic sums of campaign donations began flooding into the Democrat’s coffers.

At the same time, ad rates purchased through stations in battlegrounds with major Senate races — such as Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia – were so high that the Biden campaign calculated it could spend slightly more money on ads purchased through the national networks. Those spots would obviously have the benefit of reaching all the swing states — even the biggest reaches for him, like Texas.

The economies of scale achieved by buying national ads in bulk and reaching a broader audience would ironically save money, the campaign concluded.

“We are looking at a very wide map right now,” Becca Siegel, the Biden campaign’s chief analytics officer. “Normally at this stage of the campaign, we would be narrowing in. But at this stage of the campaign, we have a lot of pathways that have opened up.”

Nationwide buys also pack a stronger punch because the commercials get better play during the same program. For example, a “Wheel of Fortune” ad bought through the national network airs around 7:15 p.m. Eastern, a mid-show placement when people are more likely to be watching. The locally purchased spot is around 7:28 p.m., when viewers are less likely to still be tuned in.

The scale of Biden’s fundraising and ad buying have been jarring for Trump’s campaign, which once likened the president’s now-evaporated advantage to the “Death Star.” Still, Trump’s campaign and backers say they’re not too concerned with the current disparity because he was in this position before, in 2016, when he beat Clinton by leveraging his earned and social media footprints. Unlike 2016, they say, Trump has a better ground game to turn out voters.

“Television ads are a small piece of the voter outreach puzzle, and with our $350 million data operation, the Trump campaign utilizes them in the most strategic, surgical way possible,” said Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager. “It makes no sense to run TV ads in states we know we’re going to win, and in other states, they’re a useful tool to reach the right voters with the right message.”

Trump and his conservative allies are also blowing away Biden and Democrats in digital engagement. The president has vastly larger Facebook and YouTube pages, which reach more people than many news outlets. Trump is narrowly winning the digital advertising war by $174 million to Biden’s $141 million, according to Ad Analytics.


The TV ads from the campaigns aren’t the only ones on air. Factoring in outside groups, Biden and his backers have spent and reserved $723 million on TV, while Trump and his side are spending $453 million since June 1.

But Republicans have watched with concern as the disparity between the two candidates has grown on air. Biden has maintained a larger lead over Trump in polling when compared to Clinton’s advantage during the same period in 2016.

Nick Everhart, a veteran Republican ad consultant, said the combination of Trump’s troubles and Biden’s ad spending and placement are showing up in polls. States such as Texas, Ohio and Iowa look more in play than anyone expected at the start of the campaign cycle.

“A lot of the movement in some of these red-leaning states has been from white people over 55 who are at home during the pandemic and watching a lot of ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ a lot of ‘Jeopardy’ and a lot of local news,” Everhart said. “The way those seniors have broken to Biden, in conjunction with how the president has handled the pandemic, looks like it’s paying off.”

After encountering a cash crunch during the late summer and into the fall, Trump’s campaign has picked up the pace on TV in recent weeks in Arizona and other battlegrounds.

On Friday, for instance, Trump’s campaign bought one $36,000 ad slot on Monday Night Football in Phoenix that will run on the local Fox affiliate that’s simulcasting the ESPN national broadcast. Biden had long ago purchased two of the local ads and a single $327,000 spot on the national broadcast.

Biden has out-advertised Trump on football, attempting to reach younger and middle-aged men who comprise more of the Republican’s base and are often harder to reach via TV because they watch less of it than women.

During football games, Biden has been airing a commercial of an Iraq War vet discussing how the former vice president and senator helped get troops mine-resistant armored vehicles, which plays well nationwide as well as Arizona. Locally, Biden’s campaign has been playing an endorsement of him by Cindy McCain, widow of the late Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Biden also has a broader range of ads compared to Trump, running 63 unique spots to the president’s 25 since Sept. 1, according to Advertising Analytics.

That’s enabled Biden to hone in on special messages to target audiences, whether it’s seniors watching game shows or the predominantly female audience that tuned into the Emmys and saw a spot of a Wisconsin mom criticizing Trump over the pandemic. In the Miami media market, Biden recently began running more Spanish-language ads and he’s outspending Trump in the president’s must-win state of Florida by $89 million to $68 million.

After Trump fell ill Oct. 2 with COVID-19, Biden’s campaign announced he would take down his negative ads while the president was in the hospital. Trump appears well again, but so far the Biden campaign is keeping more of its positive ads up because it found that viewers respond better to positive biographical messages about the former vice president.

Starting Oct. 26, Biden’s campaign plans to start running more 60-second ads during football games and many other shows.

Most ads are usually 30 seconds, but Biden’s campaign has a unique problem: it has too much money.

Biden’s campaign announced Thursday that he had $432 million cash on hand and just 20 days to spend it. That’s prompted social media to light up with references to the '80s comedy movie “Brewster’s Millions,” in which the protagonist has to spend millions in inheritance money in order to qualify for an even bigger inheritance. He wastes the money by running for political office.

“It’s certainly Brewster’s Millions level spending,” laughed Rich Davis, a veteran Democratic adman who worked for President Barack Obama’s campaigns, “but without the Brewster's capriciousness.”

‘He was having fun’: Lara Trump defends president’s attack on Whitmer


Lara Trump, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, defended Sunday her father-in-law’s suggestion that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should be imprisoned alongside his other political rivals.

In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Lara Trump insisted that the president was merely “having fun at a Trump rally” when he criticized Whitmer, a Democrat, at a campaign event this weekend.

“He wasn’t doing anything, I don’t think, to provoke people to threaten this woman at all,” Lara Trump said of the president’s remarks about Whitmer, who recently was the target of a foiled kidnapping plot.

“The president was at a rally,” she added. “It’s a fun, light atmosphere. Of course he wasn’t encouraging people to threaten this woman. That’s ridiculous.”

At the president’s rally Saturday in Muskegon, Mich., after he demanded that Whitmer loosen her state’s coronavirus-related restrictions, attendees erupted into chants of “lock her up.”

The president did not attempt to dissuade the crowd, instead saying: “Lock them all up.”

Lara Trump sought to justify the calls from the president and his supporters Sunday, saying that “people are very frustrated” with Whitmer in Michigan and that “you’re hearing people’s frustration play out there at the Trump rally.”

She also said the president’s attack on Whitmer “has nothing to do with” her attempted kidnapping, and noted that “it was the president’s Department of Justice that actually thwarted” the plot against the governor.

Whitmer responded to Trump’s rally remarks in a tweet Saturday evening, writing that his rhetoric “has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans. It needs to stop.”

The president has repeatedly assailed Whitmer’s handling of the coronavirus throughout the pandemic, even encouraging his supporters to “LIBERATE” Michigan in April.

Pelosi: Covid-19 relief bill hinges on next 48 hours


The months of back-and-forth talks between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to deliver a coronavirus relief bill before the Nov. 3 election may have come down to the final 48 hours.

Pelosi indicated Sunday that the White House has less than two days to finalize a deal with Democrats to have any chance of muscling through a trillion-dollar-plus bill before the election.

The California Democrat said she remained “hopeful” after a lengthy call with Mnuchin on Saturday night. The two plan to speak again Monday. But Pelosi added that the fate of the aid “depends on the administration.”

“Are we going with it, or not? And what is the language?” Pelosi said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

Pelosi and Mnuchin have been negotiating on and off since August about the size and scope of Congress’s next stimulus package, with much of the U.S. economy still in tatters as the pandemic rages on. Washington has already approved more than $3 trillion in aid, but it's been six months since any new cash has gone out the door.

Those bipartisan talks have intensified in the last few weeks, though many lawmakers and aides say they’ve grown skeptical that an accord can be reached — let alone passed through Congress — in the final days before the election.

The situation has been made even more complicated by President Donald Trump himself, who called off the talks during his own battle with Covid-19 — only to backtrack a day later, and then call for an even bigger deal.

Pelosi said Sunday that she and Trump administration officials are still “seeking clarity” on the GOP’s specific offer on a national testing and contract tracing plan, which remains one of the key agreements of disagreement

“We’re seeking clarity, because … with all due respect to some of the people in the president's administration — they're not legislators,” she said, noting the administration had made small adjustments in language that were actually significant.

“They changed ‘shall’ to ‘may,’ ‘requirements’ to ‘recommendations,’ a ‘plan’ to a ‘strategy,’ not a strategic plan. They took out 55 percent of the language that we had there for testing and tracing,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke for more than an hour Saturday night, where Pelosi received “some encouraging news on testing” but remained not in agreement in other areas, according to her spokesman Drew Hammill.

“There remains an array of additional differences as we go provision by provision that must be addressed in a comprehensive manner in the next 48 hours,” Hammill said Saturday night.

Even if a deal on coronavirus relief between Pelosi and the White House is reached, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would need to bring it to the Senate floor and get Senate Republicans on board with the package.

McConnell did say Saturday that he would put a deal on the floor if it ever came together: “If Speaker Pelosi ever lets the House reach a bipartisan agreement with the Administration, the Senate would of course consider it.”

But the Senate GOP has been perennially skeptical of any funding agreement over $1 trillion, let alone a deal closer to $2 trillion as Pelosi and Mnuchin have been discussing.

Under pressure to pass some kind of relief bill before the election, McConnell has instead teed up Senate votes next week on a much narrower proposal than what Democrats and Mnuchin have floated.

“Speaker Pelosi keeps saying she feels ‘nothing’ is better than ‘something’ and clinging to far-left demands that are designed to kill any hope of a deal,” McConnell said Saturday.

Mnuchin — who has been largely optimistic throughout the talks — acknowledged earlier this week that the odds were diminishing to reach a deal before the election. He told the Milken Institute Global Conference that “getting something done before the election and executing on that will be difficult.”

Trump campaign adviser signals president will tone it down at upcoming debate


Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller signaled Sunday that President Donald Trump will take a less combative tack toward Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden during their televised debate this week.

“When you talk about style and you talk about approach, I do think that President Trump is going to give Joe Biden a little bit more room to explain himself on some of these issues,” Miller said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

Miller specifically mentioned dubious allegations against the Biden family detailed in recent New York Post reports and Biden’s refusal to articulate a firm position on expanding the Supreme Court as topics on which Trump would seek to pin down his opponent.

“I do think the president’s going to want to hear Joe Biden’s answer on some of these, and we’ll definitely give him all the time that Joe Biden wants to talk about packing the court,” Miller said. “And I think he’s going to get it on Thursday.”

Reince Priebus, Trump’s first White House chief of staff, also said Sunday that the president “is going to be pivoting” in the final days of the campaign to focus more on the economy, and suggested Trump would cede more time to Biden at this week’s debate.

“I think this upcoming debate is going to be really important, that the president is … likable, fun, have a good time,” Priebus told CBS’s “Face the Nation” in an interview. “Let Joe Biden speak, and let Joe Biden defend the Obama economy.”

In their first debate late last month, Trump repeatedly bulldozed through Biden’s responses and moderator Chris Wallace’s questions, even after being reminded of the rules governing speaking time that were agreed upon beforehand by both campaigns.

The president’s aggressive performance prompted the Commission on Presidential Debates to announce potential format changes to the remaining forums to “maintain order” and ensure “additional structure.”

According to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted the day after the first debate, 86 percent of all voters who tuned in said the candidates were “interruptive” — but not in equal measure. The vast majority of respondents said Trump butted in more than Biden, 71 percent to 18 percent.

The third and likely final debate between Biden and Trump will take place Thursday in Nashville, Tenn., and will be moderated by Kristen Welker of NBC News.

The candidates’ second debate, which was scheduled for last Thursday, was canceled after the debate commission announced the forum would be conducted virtually in the aftermath of Trump contracting the coronavirus.

Trump objected to participating remotely, and after a back-and-forth between his and Biden’s campaigns, the candidates ended up taking part in dueling town hall events broadcast on separate networks.

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