State of the race: Where do Trump and Biden stand after the first debates, fast news


The Vice-Presidential debate between incumbent Mike Pence and challenger Kamala Harris has been far calmer than the presidential one – and a stark contrast to the fast pace of news developments. Joseph Trevisani and Yohay Elam run down the encounter, clash on the topics, and try to assess where the race stand, less than four weeks to go.

Yohay Elam: Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris met in the single VP debate. The televised event was far more civilized in comparison to the presidential debate. However, I felt that both candidates did not answer all the questions but rather said out their well-rehearsed phrases

Joseph Trevisani: Yes, it was of a different demeanor.  It seems both candidates took the same lesson from the prior debate. Over trudges lose.

Yohay Elam: If the single rule of a VP candidate is "do no harm," I think they both succeeded

Joseph Trevisani: True, but I thought Pence was the clear winner, scoring far more points especially on the policy. Neither for instance answered Ms. Page's question on abortion and the Court.

Yohay Elam: I think Harris began well with healthcare, but then Pence had a nice punch on China. Indeed, I thought the Supreme Court topics were important, but perhaps not that much. For me, the biggest thing that was missing is how would either VP govern if needed. The VP debate was supposed to be more important due to the old age of the candidates in the age of coronavirus. But both were busy defending their presidential candidate and attacking the other, well, typical of a VP debate I guess

Joseph Trevisani: Yes, but they did illustrate the differences in policy between the current and prospective administrations.  On taxes I though Pence made it clear that a repeal of the Trump tax cuts would raise levies on all Americans not just those making over $400,000. Biden has that the tax reform would be repealed "on day one", a rhetorical flourish to be sure, but one clear on the intent. In what was a polite but forceful interruption he said to Ms. Harris, you are entitled to your opinion but not your own facts.

Yohay Elam: The tax reform proved unpopular, so it was positive for Harris to go after that. Court-packing is unpopular, and there scored a good point by saying something along the lines of "for the record, she did not answer the question." I don't see the Dems raising taxes on the middle class in the middle of a pandemic, but taxing the rich is certainly on the table, a popular policy for sure

Joseph Trevisani: Yes, that was a strong sally on the court.  The problem is that the tax bill did reduce taxes for everyone and repealing it will reverse them. The court is a strong point for Republican and conservative voters and as you say, packing the court is unpopular, so much so that even Franklin Roosevelt at the height of his power did not, though he tried.

Yohay Elam: If the tax cuts were so great, Republicans would be touting them a lot more in 2018. Dems hammered them back then on health. Harris scored on health, especially on Trump's attempt on the topic of existing conditions. Do you think Pence succeeded in shoring support for Trump?

Joseph Trevisani: Yes, definitely, but it will not matter much if the next presidential debates do not reinforce the gain.

Yohay Elam: The first presidential debate shifted support from Trump to Biden in an otherwise stable race

Joseph Trevisani: Trump is mecurical.

Yohay Elam: In several days we'll learn if Pence's calm mood helped. Indeed, and Pence, by not being Trump, had a low bar to succeed, and he's also a good debater. I just doubt that the VP debate will have an impact

Joseph Trevisani: I think the moderator Susan Page from USA Today, which by the way is resolutely anti-Trump, was far better than Chris Wallace.

Yohay Elam: She let Pence evade the question about accepting the election results. So maybe she's anti-Trump, but she let his VP off the hook on the most critical question

Joseph Trevisani: But even last night, questions tilted against Pence. For instance, on race relations, Ms. Page asked about the Breonna Taylor shooting, but not about Antifa and BLM riots.

Yohay Elam: Trump is making much more of Antifa than what it is, claiming anarchists are organized

Joseph Trevisani: They are.

Yohay Elam: BLM is 20 million protesting, the largest since the 1960s. Riots were a minor part. Most Americans trust Biden on race relations

Joseph Trevisani: And many of them have devolved into riots and looting. I live in NYC I have seen the results firsthand.

Yohay Elam: Trump's message is not working. Violence is bad. Period. Full stop. Trump found it hard to denounce violence, commanding white supremacists to "stand by." The FBI warned about them

Joseph Trevisani: I believe he said 'stand down and stand by'

Yohay Elam: Indeed, as if he commanded them. He just cannot denounce anyone who supports him. Pro-Trump good, not pro-Trump, bad

Joseph Trevisani: Indeed. But I don't think he does.  And Trump has many times in explicit terms condemned white supremacy. The media knows this but pretended otherwise.

Yohay Elam: Charlottesville, he said there are good people among neo-nazis. That's not explicit, that's not unequivocal. Telling white supremacists to stand by is the opposite of explicitly condemning white supremacy. I guess it's a turnout game, getting all supporters on board, but it is a boomerang. A turnoff for moderate who he needs

Joseph Trevisani: And it's not the full quote, which, I dong this from memory is, 'There are fine people on both sides, but that does not include neo-nazis and white supremacists.'  The media leaves out the second part.  Pure journalistic malfeasance. On the turnout, the Trump campaign has been out knocking on doors for weeks. The Biden folks just started last week and in many of the swing states, new Republican voter registration is far ahead of Democrats. Republican enthusiasm also seems far greater, but those are in tangibles, the polls are consistently leading for Biden.

Yohay Elam: Trump said there are fine people in the neo-nazi march instead of flatly condemning it. It's not about enthusiasm about Biden, but enthusiasm against Trump, and on that, Dems are in the lead. It's a referendum on the incumbent, and Trump loves to be at the center of attention. He told Woodward that he enjoys the rage

Joseph Trevisani: I have questioned form the beginning of whether Trump hate is enough.  I'm not sure it is.

Yohay Elam: Until that attention comes back to haunt him. Trump is divisive and thrives on that. Trump has a 15% chance of winning according to FiveThirtyEight

Joseph Trevisani: Yet he also loves to win.

Yohay Elam: And 9% according to The Economist. He's a good showman, he made money on The Apprentice to compensate for his poor business skills

Joseph Trevisani: Well, both have a rather poor record on the prediction I think. They were the same in 2016. Apparently, they have not developed any humility.

Yohay Elam: I think Trump still has a chance for a comeback, but the door is narrowing. Polls underestimated Obama in 2012

Joseph Trevisani: I agree, the time is running fast.

Yohay Elam: Polls can be wrong but in both directions

Joseph Trevisani: That is true, that is what elections are such great entertainment.

Yohay Elam: The Senate seems closer

Joseph Trevisani: Trump is not essentially a businessman or a politician but a showman. It does, but one of the leading Democratic candidates to take a Republican seat in North Carolina has degenerated in an adultery scandal.

Yohay Elam: Yep, that scandal could be a make-or-break for the Senate

Joseph Trevisani: So the odds of a takeover may be narrowing.

Yohay Elam: Dems are in the lead, but only just

Joseph Trevisani: I am always amazed at how candidates never seem to learn. It must be something about the adulation that warps judgment.

Yohay Elam: I guess that people in power feel invincible

Joseph Trevisani: In 2016 the large swing of voters that turned the elections happened in the last two weeks of the campaign. I would expect similar timing this year.

Yohay Elam: Indeed, undecided broke two to one for Trump in the final stretch of that campaign. The Comey announcement, 10 days before the announcement can be partially attributed to that. Another last-minute shocker cannot be ruled out. That's why it's too early to write off Trump. However, there are fewer undecideds. The gap is larger, including in swing states. I believe that pollsters may try to compensate for 2016, and potentially overcompensate.

Joseph Trevisani: True. The government at Trump's insistence is releasing many records of the FBI spying on the Trump campaign.  There may be something there.  Considering how hard the FBI and the CIA are fighting the release, I would guess there is.

Yohay Elam: That's the October surprise that Trump may be hinging his bets on. Do you think it could turn the elections?

Joseph Trevisani: Normally I would say no, but the odds in the swing states are so narrow, that yes if there was a substantive accusation or proof that Biden knew of the FBI illegal spying, the Trump campaign would use it for all it was worth. The problem for Biden is what the FBI did is wrong legally and morally.

Yohay Elam: I guess that such a thing would have to come out fast, including a big smoking gun, and be fully exploited. Voting is underway

Joseph Trevisani: Yes, it seems doubtful. Particularly since the media would do its best to ignore and downplay it. On early voting, it tends to be Democratic and in-person Republican

Yohay Elam: Indeed, perhaps creating a "red mirage" on election night but then a "blue shift" once mail-in ballots are counted. Florida is the exception. Well, Florida is special in many ways. Early voting is already being counted in the Sunshine State, which means full results will come out quickly, on election night. If Biden wins Florida, I think it's over for Trump. It's a big if of course, but Biden is leading also there

Joseph Trevisani: Florida is the only state where the polls accurately caught the late switch to Trump in 2016, but I am not sure which polls detected the move.

Yohay Elam: It's a very tricky state

Joseph Trevisani: Election night will be interesting.

Yohay Elam: Cuban-Americans are leaning more Republican, contrary to the rest of Latinos, older people voted for Trump but are shifting to Biden. In 2018, results were favorable to the GOP, contrary to the rest of the blue wave. FiveThirtyEight on Florida. Biden is expanding his lead but is behind his national one, and everything can change

Joseph Trevisani: Interestingly the Spanish network Telemundo was the only one where a majority of the viewers of the first debate, 61% to 39% said Trump won against Biden. My problem with the aggregate polling averages and predictions is the old programming adage, 'Garbage in, garbage out'. Very few of the pollsters were at all accurate in 2016. I have my doubts that they have improved their methods. As with all models of any type, the accuracy depends on assumptions.  And assumptions are a human, not statistical, function.

Yohay Elam: Indeed, if polls now could fully foresee the future, we wouldn't be talking about the elections. Uncertainty is what moves markets.

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