S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership, this episode of The Gabfest contains explicit language.
S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate political gabfest for October 8th, 2020, be spitting into a sheet of Plexiglas edition.
S3: I am David Plotz. I’m in Washington, D.C. I’m joined by Emily Bazelon of Yale University Law School and the New York Times magazine from New Haven. Hello, Emily. Hello, David. And by John Dickerson of CBS’s 60 Minutes from somewhere with some really depressing feeling, really sad, sad punch out ceiling there above you. I don’t know where it is.
S4: I’m actually in the CBS Washington bureau. But you’re right, the image on the Zune call right now looks like I should be pressing you for a little bit more detail about your financial history before I make this lease agreement with you.
S3: Actually, I feel like you’re you’re like in a boiler room. And after this, you’re going to make calls and try to sell sell 80 year olds on some penny stock for maybe I write or tell them their Social Security is being revoked.
S4: Right, until they give me that. Yeah.
S1: Can you just admire that? John has repartee and him right now since he was on television until late last night and smart and sharp and up again early this morning, although they canceled my my hit.
S4: Which will which gives you some indication of how quickly the vice presidential debate has already, you know, made its way through the news cycle or or the alternate version is that they didn’t want to hear what I had to say.
S1: I think the first explanation makes a lot of sense.
S3: What vice presidential debate on today’s gabfest? We will get to the vice presidential debate, but not first. First, the super spreader in chief’s case of covid has thrown another surprise into this presidential race. How will Trump’s disease and the wildfire spread of it through his staff and through the White House affect the election? Then said vice presidential debate. It was last night between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence. Who won? Who lost? Does it matter? It was just like regular politics. It was just like. It was like it was like being transported back to 2008 or 2012. It was so refreshing. Then, even if Joe Biden wins the presidency, his chance of getting anything done will depend on whether Democrats hold a majority in the Senate. How does the race for the Senate look right now and how mad are they going to be if that fool named Cal Cunningham in North Carolina blows it for them? Plus, we will have cocktail chatter. So I gabfests listeners. I’m a really normal regular kind of person. I watch a lot of sports. I go to bed early. I just want to live a quiet, boring life. And like most Americans, I have found the last four years just exhausting. We have we have this situation where we always are constantly having to pay attention to this president and the chaos that he causes. And I feel like what whatever has happened, it’s now I mean, it’s literally on steroids. The president is literally on steroids. The chaos that the president has unleashed upon his administration upon all of us is unspeakable. This last week has been incomprehensibly chaotic. The forced hospitalization of President Trump, who’s now hopped up on some kind of drugs. Apparently he’s sending appalling tweets that continue to downplay this pandemic. He’s pulling out of economic stimulus talks and maybe not pulling out of economic stimulus talks. The entire White House and national security apparatus is sick or in quarantine. His doctors forced into this terrible like a forced into whatever, lying for him in line for him in this bizarre way. So, Emily, when it started, it felt like there was some question the president might get a sympathy bump, that this might remake the presidential race somehow because people would feel bad for the president and maybe he would have come out of it and and rewon some trust. But he’s committed these two acts of political malpractice. First of all, rather than being a humble, modest, good patient modeling lessons learned, he went massless and acted recklessly and more bizarrely than he dynamited the stimulus talks where Democrats were offering to let him have two point four trillion dollars to inject into the economy. So I don’t really know what the question was, but, man, I feel I feel good to say.
S1: Yeah, I mean, I just I can’t quite understand how hope springs eternal that president politics, eternal life and hope hicks eternal and turn into a new person like this is not the kind of behavior that he has any interest in or maybe is capable of. I don’t know. It’s just not it’s not going to happen.
S5: And this is the president we’ve got and this the canceling of the stimulus talks might just go poof in the air tomorrow. There is a problem, though. The Democrats want to point four trillion. The Republicans say one point six. That’s. Almost a trillion difference seems like a lot, and I don’t see how Trump has any leverage because they think they’re going to win the election, the Democrats, and they obviously would rather and need to be seen as helping the economy now. I mean, this is a really alarming the economy. If they don’t pass, any stimulus could be in a ditch and no one will be able to get it out until January. Presumably, the Republicans are also kind of mystifying, unless you think there’s some like we are just playing going on where Mitch McConnell has already given up on Trump and thinks maybe he can salvage the Senate and then block Joe Biden and destroy his presidency by having no stimulus in the new year and the new Congress that is so dismal and cynical that I feel bad even laying it out there. But I really don’t get this stimulus move. John, do you think it’s just like a momentary ploy and tomorrow they’ll be back at the table?
S4: I don’t know. I mean, it’s very hard to figure out the at first my first very first reaction to the president was that this was another instance in which he creates chaos. Then there’s a solution and then claims credit for the solution. So he walks away from talks. Everybody says, oh, no, no, no, no. They come up with a solution, even though he’s not involved in the actual solution making. And then he he says, you see, I got this done, which wouldn’t have been crazy, you know? I mean, it’s sort of a sort of what you do at the, you know, haggling in the market square on vacation, which isn’t something I do. But I gather people do do that. You know, you you walk away and then they but anyway, it doesn’t seem I mean, it’s just now it’s devolved into a kind of weird chaos because I thought that was a strategy until he tweeted not very long after unwinding it and making all kinds of offers. I mean, it’s just kind of a it’s incredibly depressing when you listen to Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, say if you’re going to make a mistake, do too much. Don’t there won’t be a mistake from doing too little. 100000 small businesses have shuttered. People are in. There is going to be permanent, lasting damage to lots of people’s lives, particularly those at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale as a result of damage being done over the time that this is left hanging. I want to go back just very briefly to well, not very briefly to the president’s illness. If you look at the three main critiques of the president’s response to covid-19 downplayed the risk, didn’t take measures to fight it, misled the public. Those are the critiques of Jack. Yeah. If you were the Biden campaign and wanted to come up with a script that got everybody to pay attention to those failures and then animated each of them in individual form, in their most neon fashion, it would be hard pressed to come up with a better script than the way the president in the White House has handled his own personal health issues, downplayed the nature of the risk from the virus, didn’t take the measures to mitigate against it. And then when the president got covid misled repeatedly and then misled about misleading, including the vice president during the debate, all of which echoes precisely the larger critique of the president. And for politically, the president has been trying to get the conversation off of covid-19. This seems to keep it in the center of the campaign for the remaining period of it with the intensity of a dentist’s drill.
S3: I want to briefly just nod at the Potemkin quality of all of this, this Potemkin world that’s been created around the president, where you have doctors, his doctors, creating a false story out in public to cheer him up, lying about his health to the public to make him feel better. And there are no analogies for this really in modern American political life. This is not something that that we’ve ever witnessed before. It is pure tinpot dictator propaganda, propaganda nonsense here. And and this is what we this is what the you know, the the incredible infrastructure and the incredible health capacity that exists at Walter Reed. You know, I grew up my father worked at the NIH and I grew up driving past that hospital all the time. And it was it’s such an iconic building. It’s such a beautiful symbolic building. And it’s on this gorgeous campus. And you you look at it, you think, well, that, you know, that really that National Naval National Medical Center really represents something good. And just to see the disgrace and the shame that the president is bringing on it and the and the destruction of this reputation to it’s just a it’s a horrible and embarrassing for all of us. And he doesn’t give a shit. He just like he doesn’t give a shit about it. And it’s it’s a tragedy. It is like it’s it’s a it’s a tragedy. This is a tragedy. Tragedy is is like human folly born by not simply the people who have who’ve committed the human folly, but everyone around them. Sorry. Sorry.
S4: Forgive me, OK, I’m I’m also fascinated that the president has decided to make his closing message of his campaign, suck it up on covid and get back into the game when two hundred and ten thousand people have died and when the country thinks he’s mishandled the issue. The president said he won’t debate in the in the next debate, which the Committee on Presidential Debates has said has to be virtual in order to accommodate the results of the president’s getting covid from not following any of the recommendations of his health advisers. So now the president has turned the debate story into a covid-19 story. It just seems it just seems if you were just thinking of this purely from a political standpoint, he’s really keeping the focus on covid-19 here as as the election window closes.
S1: I don’t think it’s strategic. I think it’s about spectacle and attention.
S4: Oh, yeah. No, I know I, I don’t think it’s strategic at all, but it’s but if ever there were a moment I’ll keep asking, like it seems like you would think about the political consequences, like, like you’re a political analyst.
S1: He’s the president, he’s running for reelection. It’s the frame. But I don’t think it’s.
S3: What do you mean sorry. John and Emily. And what do you mean when you say it’s just about spectacled intention that he cares more about the spectacle on attention than he does about framing it correctly politically or that he’s made a mistake?
S5: I just don’t think I ever understand what President Trump cares about exactly. But I think what we’re seeing is a focus on being at the center of attention, on creating spectacle, not any kind of political thinking, because it doesn’t make any sense. And I don’t I just don’t think that you can, like, make it. I’m not. John, I wasn’t. That wasn’t a criticism of you. No, it just I just like you can’t make political sense of it, I don’t think.
S4: Well, I think what I think makes this I think you’re you’re right about that. And it’s generally more true that it’s hard to make sense of the president’s. I mean, a lot of things that he does or not out of kind of pre thought through strategy, what I think is interesting here is you have two parts of the president’s own impulses combined. So it’s not just the president’s impulse impulses measured against what a kind of traditional politician might do. It’s the president’s impulses matched against his previous impulses. So the previous impulse before he got sick was shift the Torv, talk about Biden’s son, talk about violence in the cities, talk about the economy, talk about anything but covid-19 don’t even as David once, I think correctly put his finger on it. Don’t even put your hands on covid-19 for the purposes of mitigating and and improving the situation, because once you put your hands on it to solve it, you get your hands on it for being blamed for its downsides. That was a previous strategy. And now his current strategy, which is I’m strong, I’ve bounced back from this seems at odds with that. It’s kind of one set of impulses fighting against another.
S5: And that’s why the impulse is a good word. Agree with impulse. I don’t I think it’s sort of reflexive a question about this kerfuffle over the next debate. So the Commission on Presidential Debates decided to make the next debate between Trump and Biden. This is the second one virtual without telling anyone like they just did it, apparently.
S1: And I think that’s really interesting. Like, they must have decided there was no way to negotiate over this and that they were just going to make a health and safety call because they knew what Trump would say about it. And that I mean, it’s just a small example of how difficult it is to hold any kind of non-partisan ground, because now they’re going to get chewed up, as they already have been criticized in this like vicious partisan.
S3: It’s also how hard it is to deal with a negotiator who, in the case of Trump, is wholly in bad faith, that that if you did a negotiation, you knew that they would not they would not honor those terms. They would not go into it with the idea that this is a good faith negotiation. The idea would be to win it somehow. I mean, of course, you always want to win. You want to win any negotiation, I suppose. But Trump is an extremely bad negotiator. So I think just sort of declaring it to be so is probably the only way to get away with it. But, John, did you just say that that Trump has said he won’t participate? Yeah, he said it was ridiculous.
S4: He said he won’t participate, which is I mean, on the one hand, the committee first of all, we should just pause for a moment and think about all the accommodations the committee on Presidential Debates have already had to make to accommodate the president’s behavior. So they’ve talked about changing the rules and cutting the mic, which they will they will at some point announce what they’re going to do on that front. They had to put two pieces of Plexiglas in the vice presidential debate because of the super spreader event at the White House. And now they’ve had to create a televised town hall in order to accommodate the president. I mean, it’s an it’s, again, in miniature, a way in which this president and his behavior are clashing against tradition and the kind of weak ways in which tradition tries to reassert itself. But the president has said he won’t participate in in in the debate. And so now we’ll go through a round of that, at least. I guess we don’t have to go through the process of constantly chasing people at the White House around the table to get them to say when the president’s last negative test was, which presumably would have been some kind of precondition for the next debate, which is assuring that he has crossed some health threshold and isn’t still shredding virus.
S3: Actually, I want to go back to that last negative test. That’s another shocking thing, which is it’s now clear because the White House will not say when his last negative test is that his last negative test is somewhere back in the Paleozoic era, that they that he was not being tested regularly and either either he was being tested regularly. Any positive test, you know, perhaps even on the day of the debate that they’re not owning up to or he wasn’t being tested regularly either of which is is just shameful, shameful, shameful, and the fact that they won’t answer it. Drew. Because if they had it if they had if they had a negative test from Tuesday or Wednesday or Monday, then they’d say, oh yes, he was tested Tuesday or Wednesday or Monday, but they don’t.
S4: And by the way, the reason this is important beyond health issues is that if you want to get the economy going again because of because a vaccine is not going to be widely available until the spring or summer of next year and you’ve got to live in that interim period, you’ve got to find some way to behave in public that makes people feel like the risk has been reduced. And the way you do that is through doing all the things that the president and his folks were not doing at the at the White House super spreader event. So this isn’t this is about the economy as much as it is about health.
S3: It’s about the it’s about just the fucking human decency of the people you work with and the people who support you showing up and their loved ones and being and just being responsible enough to say, hey, let’s just be careful, because, you know, it seems like there was a bunch of virus of that event. How you do it, like how about that? How about just that level of human decency? Could you manage that?
S4: You’ve outflanked me on the human decency. That’s my lane.
S3: Sorry. I think of you. If you were pro human decency, you wouldn’t need to say that. All right. Last question on this. And John, just for you quickly, which is insofar as we have data so far, what do the polls suggest about how the president’s illness has affected the race, if at all?
S4: Well, 60 to 70 percent, depending on the poll. You look and think that the president’s personal irresponsibility led to his getting sick. And the polls have gotten worse for the president, both nationally and in specific states. It’s hard to know whether that’s a result of his debate performance, which people had a very negative reaction towards or whether it’s a result of his getting sick. The polling is a little all over the place on whether it has changed people’s perception of what their personal risk with respect to being infected. Because you could imagine that one response to this would be even the most protected place in America becomes a super spreader event. Then then that reminds people of the virulence of covid. In some polls, it shows that people’s personal concern did tick up a little. In others, it showed it’s basically where it has been, which is about sixty six. Some odd percent of the country is worried about getting it themselves. And so and and this all kind of splits along partisan lines. So there doesn’t seem to be any new revelations as a result of the president getting it. One other point. I would say so. His poll numbers have gone down. There’s also in the 538 polling suggests that that recently when you ask people their top concern, it’s flipped. It used to be economy over covid. Now it’s covered over the economy. And if we go back to controlling the turf, being good for you as a candidate, that’s turf. Biden wants that to be the number one issue because he dominates the president so much. When you ask people who do you trust to handle covid more when the economy is number one issue, people trust the president more.
S5: Can I object to that framing, I mean, you just said very cogently a couple of minutes ago that getting covid under control is the way back to the economy. I think if someone asked me that covid versus economy number one issue in a poll, I would be very frustrated because they’re so intertwined.
S4: I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t agree more. And it’s one of the things we get to the debate. I think Kamala Harris left a lot on the table. She could have argued that. I mean, this is not a partisan point. You talk to economists as I have lots of them. And the argument that that you that managing covid is crucial to improving the economy is a central thing that they say. And so it shouldn’t be two separate issues. It’s just that’s the way it’s asked in poll Slate.
S3: Plus, members get bonus segments here on the Gabfest, on other Slate podcasts. And today on our Slate plus segment, we’re going to be talking about more about this. We’re talking about whether the White House’s permanent staff and the Secret Service should have to work in a place that is as contaminated with this deadly virus as they as the White House is. So go to Slate dotcom slugfests plus to become a member now. Last night in Utah, there was a really like, extremely normal vice presidential debate, there was plexiglass on the stage, but otherwise it was just normal. It was like, you know, you had Mike Pence, who is the the the kind of standard bog standard, normal Republican conservative, Christian, evangelical, calm, conservative talk show host, kind of vice president, and Kamala Harris, who is historic because she is the first woman of color on a major party ticket and the first black woman on a major party ticket. And but is it just kind of regulation politician, too? And they had a really, really dreary debate and goodness, that was so happy and satisfying to sit there and kind of like basically tune out as they were having their debate. Emily, did you enjoy that really boring debate?
S5: I think I was a little more on edge than you are because I was watching thinking about all the gender constraints or concerns that Harris might be having. And I think I was like hyper too alert to anything she did that made me worried that she was turning off some sexist somewhere. Like, you can’t really expect that there’s not going to like you can’t help that. So I actually thought that she had a good opening statement. I worried that she was like just the volume was up too high for some part of the beginning. And I thought Pence was doing an excellent job of being really understated. I mean, maybe that’s the part that I enjoyed was just compared to all the ugliness of the first debate. It felt like kind of standard politician stuff, except then he really started lying. And I didn’t like that. That like that worried me.
S1: That made me feel like actually the changing political dialogue has seeped seeped in more deeply, which I already thought. But it was.
S3: You mean like that if a regulation politician like Mike Pence feels so comfortable lying as baldly and as grotesquely and as grandly as he did, that means that, man, there really is no standard to uphold anymore.
S1: Yeah, I don’t know. Maybe I’m like romanticizing some previous era, but he lied with such apparent conviction and heart that it just insincerity. That kind of made me worried.
S3: John, you have your finger up.
S4: Well, David, so when I worked on my book, I spent a lot of time thinking about standards and and where the standards for the presidency come from and who used to enforce them and what happened to them and what happens when we all have to make up the standards on the fly. Mike Pence used to be one of the great standard keepers, one of the great standard articulators and one of the great standard monitors. And so one of the arguments is that when standards disappeared, it was in part because the people who used to be so invested in maintaining and keeping those standards and keeping us all fresh by pointing to the cleaned plaque on the wall on which those standards were written, had abandoned the field. And during the Clinton years, Pence said that if a president’s leaders in a president’s party did not abandon that president when that president lied, he said, if our leaders flinch at this responsibility, which is to say, abandoning their president, they would do well to heed the proverb. If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked. So you might take that in the contemporary context as true.
S3: Like we’ve seen that. Yes, that has happened.
S4: Well, you could take that in the broad context with respect to Mike Pence and his relationship with the president. But you can also take it with very specific investigation of what Mike Pence said in the debate itself. Many things he said were flatly untrue, including when he was referring to the super spreader event. And he said it was an outdoor event, which all of our scientists regularly, routinely advise. So on its face, that’s a lie because it was an indoor event as well.
S3: The Super Spreader event, which was, of course, the announcement of the nomination of Amy Cuddy Barrett, which had an outdoor ceremony, but then also an indoor component where there was lots of hugging and close conversation.
S4: And also it wasn’t this is just garden variety misleading. But it wasn’t just an outdoor event in which everybody followed the rules. It was an outdoor event which everybody was packed very tightly together, which scientists do not routinely advise. And so that with respect to that quote, is obviously a huge clash. But then there’s a more important point here. He’s the head of the coronavirus task force. The central claim is that the administration has misled the public. He said about that claim. We have never done that, he said. We’ve always told the American people the truth. And yet in real time, he is saying something that is untrue as he mischaracterized what happened at the White House super spreader event. So the stakes are kind of high here because two hundred and ten thousand people are dead. So when the stakes are high and. You’re the head of the coronaviruses task force and all. Inspiration should tell you to tell the truth, he doesn’t, and so I think that’s more than just garden variety shillyshallying that goes on in politics.
S3: Emily, I was, I guess, most interested in this debate as to whether it would reshape the dynamics of the presidential debate. And it appeared to me going in that Mike Pence needed to have a big win. It had to be Pence really had to come up with something big and he had to really put Harris on her heels and make her defend Biden some way that was uncomfortable or raise issues that were going to make her feel awkward. And none of that happened. I mean, he lied throughout. He played defense very effectively because he lied so well. But in terms of changing the dynamic of the race, it didn’t feel to me like he did that. I am I am I misreading it?
S5: Oh, no. I don’t think you changed the dynamic of the race. I mean, I thought that he put Harris on the defensive pretty effectively on fracking and the new green deal. And I thought she had better answers. It linked again to the economy. I mean, she did OK. She talked about jobs. That was good. I thought one of her best moments when she started talking about free community college and debt reducing debt like those are very solid Democratic issues. She laid them out really well.
S4: So, David, you’re right, the dynamics are not going to change. George Herbert Walker Bush in 1980 wouldn’t even debate Walter Mondale. He said where it’s the minor leagues where like the the mud hens name of a minor league team. So the dynamic is going to change, although I think Pence was really effective in holding territory that’s better for President Trump. It offers a pathway of President Trump were as disciplined as Mike Pence to keep the conversation on fracking trade taxes, which is just better a better term for the president based on current polling. And also, I think Kamala Harris was defensive on those issues. Having said that, when Mike Pence talks about the Green New Deal, I’m wondering if people really know outside of the the bubble what that means. And if you’re trying to make a case to people about the the Biden ticket, you have to be more than just asserting a series of things which Mike Pence did. You have to kind of make the case. And I think this is a downside of partisan politics, which is that candidates no longer have to make cases outside of their echo chamber. To the extent that he kept making this the case is that he was making a seemed to me to be of limited utility because it was all very kind of Fox News speech, which obviously does fine for your team. But the president’s poll numbers are in a position where he needs to do more, which is bring people he’s been shedding since twenty sixteen back into the fold. And so in that way, the brand of constant assertions using jargon seems to me to not be that.
S3: That’s a great point, John. I think one of the things I have such extremely ambivalent feelings about Bill Clinton at this point. But one of the things I think Bill Clinton was so good at was to take policy issues, which may have been super partisan policy issues and really put them in human terms and specific terms around things that people would understand. Biden and Harris have done a slightly better job than Trump and Pence. But you’re but because everything is is done in the shorthand, everything is done in this, like either progressive shorthand or or Fox News shorthand. People don’t even know what they’re talking about. I’m a relatively educated person. I’m not really sure what the Green New Deal is like. I don’t actually know what the component of the Green New Deal is. I’m not proud to admit that on the show. But but people talk about it in this way. And, you know, I can make a guess, but do I actually know if anyone actually told me this, this and this not? I don’t know. I don’t know that.
S4: And also referring to AOC, who knows whether an AOC is whose. I mean, because, again, the debates are supposedly about breaking beyond the politically obsessed.
S1: I especially if you don’t have the picture up of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, maybe you’re not signaling beyond your own base what you are trying to signal.
S3: I my final point about the debate, I thought the most effective moments for Harris were all around the Affordable Care Act. Yes. And the that point when she said, if you are you know, if you have a pre-existing if you have diabetes, heart disease, whatever else had covid, they’re coming for you. If you’re, you know, a relative of someone who they’re coming for you. If you’re less than 26 on your parent’s health, they’re coming for you. That they’re coming for you, I thought was really good. And I think she had a bunch of opportunities to kind of return to that. And she did it a little bit. But but I would keep pushing on it because it is it’s it’s a real winning issue for them. Senate Democrats need to win three seats and, of course, have Joe Biden win the presidency in order to hold a Senate majority. The polling genies seem to be putting it about 50/50 or maybe slightly in the Democrats favor whether they will capture. The Senate, let us start this topic just a very quick rundown of what seats are in play. Doug Jones, an Alabama Democrat holding a very Republican seat, expected to lose it. So that’s now. Now the Democrats need four seats. Cory Gardner, John Hickenlooper, race in Colorado. The Democrat Hickenlooper is favored there. Arizona, Mark Kelly is seems to be leading Martha McSally, the incumbent. That’s another to the Democrats if things go as planned. Joni Ernst is in trouble in Iowa. Another Republican against Teresa Greenfield, a Democrat, Susan Collins, is down to Sarah Gideon in Maine. So those if those four Republican seats went and Biden captured the White House, the Democrats would have a majority. There are other seats in Montana. Steve Daines is in a close race with Steve Bullock because everyone in Montana is named Steve. And in North Carolina, Thom Tillis, another Republican, was in big trouble against this guy, Cal Cunningham. And Cal Cunningham, the Democrat is in a sexting affair brouhaha. That is just going to make Democrats crazy if that that’s what cost them the Senate. Lindsey Graham is in a very, very unexpectedly tight race in South Carolina against Jamie Harrison. And in Georgia, there are two races, both of which were up. Republicans are probably favored in Kelly Loffler and David Perdue, but Democrats have a chance and both of them, especially if there’s a strong Democratic turnout in the presidential race, presumably. So, John, F there is this. Thank you. I know 538 has a slight lean for Democrats. You’re not a pollster, but what do you think are the factors that affect whether this is going to be a wavier for Democrats or whether it’s like a you know, maybe maybe it’s going to be close and maybe look at 50 or maybe at 49 or where it I don’t know.
S4: I mean, I think it it does feel like it’s on a knife’s edge. The most interesting thing to me this week was in was both Martha McSally in Arizona and her debate with Mark Kelly, basically not when she was asked if she was proud of the president. Her answer was very painful to watch because of her effort to try to distance herself, which is interesting because Kelly Loffler in Georgia ran an ad in which Donald Trump, famous clip of him at a wrestling match pinning Vince McMahon, replaces McMahon’s head with the coronavirus. In other words, just a very macho yade. Donald Trump, she’s in a she’s basically in a primary fight in Georgia. And so that’s what you have to do in that fight in Arizona, which is trending blue and might go to Biden, even though it went to Trump last time. And where exactly is behind? She’s trying to distance herself from the president, which is impossible. Cornyn in Texas, John Cornyn, who is should be safe in Texas, nevertheless, in an interview, was critical of the president, particularly the president’s behavior with respect to getting covid-19, which is, again, shows him trying to create some distance with the president. What does that mean? It just means that in these close races and Texas shouldn’t be in that category. But nevertheless, John Cornyn is feeling some pressure. The candidates, though, I think that this is an impossible thing, are trying to at least create some distance with the president, which suggests that it’s the president. We knew this, but the president always in modern times has a real influence in how these races go. So that’s the answer to your question, which is as goes Trump, so goes the fortunes of those Republicans. And it has gotten sticky enough here at the first week of October that you have people trying to distance themselves from him, which is a mug’s game. You can’t do it, particularly this kind of a president. So it gives you, I guess, some just some sense of how nervous they are among Republicans.
S1: So, I mean, one thing, Loffler in a primary race. I said that earlier. Yes. So what’s up with that one is that I don’t get that, like between now and November 3rd, she has to win a primary.
S4: Yeah, it’s a special because it’s still it’s still the I think it’s still the Johnny Isaacson seat.
S3: I think it’s a nonpartisan primary. And if no one gets 50 in November, run it off.
S4: So the difference between the two is Loffler is in the kind of idiosyncratic Georgia race where it’s a it’s a special so effectively in a red state that makes it a primary. So she has to deal with a more conservative audience in a primary because in the special election in Georgia, if you don’t get more than 50 percent in November, you go to a runoff on the 5th of January. She’s running against Doug Collins, congressman from Georgia. So she’s it’s a Republican on Republican there, as opposed to McSally, who’s a Republican versus a Democrat in Arizona, which is trending blue, although there is a Democrat in that race as well.
S3: There’s Rafeal in Georgia who’s trying to trying to get one of the. Top spots in that race so that he’s in the runoff. Emily, I’m kind of surprised when I look at a couple of races like Susan Collins in Maine or Cory Gardner, John Hickenlooper race in Colorado or even the Micheli Kelly race in Arizona, that the Democrats aren’t doing even better than they are.
S5: It feels like Susan Collins when her last race by more than 30 points.
S3: Yes, but it’s a state that is that is a Democrat well, now pretty Democratic state in the presidential race. And Collins has been just absolutely hammered for what she’s been doing to to support Trump on judicial nominees.
S5: Yeah, I guess I’m always interested and kind of surprised when people switch, like, both because the world has become more partisan and also because you have to admit that the person who supported you don’t like anymore.
S1: And in our kind of tribal team world, I feel like that’s gotten harder to do. So I guess that’s part of how I explain it to myself. I mean, Collins really complained yesterday about no stimulus funding, assuming that even relevant today, who knows? She made a strong statement about that. She always has trouble figuring out how to position herself. And yet, you know, previously people in Maine, like she was super popular. So you have to tumble a really long way if you’re someone like her. I mean, that’s not true about McSally and some of these other people, but which of these races would be most satisfying to you?
S3: I mean, obviously, there’s one correct answer. Yes.
S1: I’m not answering that question.
S3: The correct answer, The New York Times is correct, not the correct answer is it would be most satisfying of Lindsey Graham was to seat. It would be so deeply satisfying if Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, which is has historically or in the last 25 years been about as Republican a state as there is in the country. And having tied himself, having almost literally lashed himself completely to Trump, manages to lose that seat. That would be just wonderfully satisfying. This is the kind of sanctimony, anxiousness and hypocrisy of Lindsey Graham has been something to behold in the past few years. And to to have that cost him his seat would be magnificent. It probably will not happen. It’s it’s hard to imagine it happening, but. Oh, it would be great. Do you think there are states like Florida which does not have a Senate race? Georgia has Senate races. Do you think that relatively Senate races help Trump or hurt him?
S4: That’s a good question. I think it definitely depends on the candidate in the state and whether they have a certain kind of pull and an organization in the state. I remember. And I think this is true doing reporting in 2016. And people were saying that Portman was going to help Trump in Ohio, Rob Portman, who was up in 2016 because he had his own turnout operation. I’m trying to think about where that would make where that might be true in these individual races. And I can’t. I mean, George, Georgia. I don’t know Purdue and have I mean, Purdue and Loffler, I mean, I don’t feel like they have such a strong organization that’s going to pull people in any significant way towards towards the president. So, David, I’m not doing a very good job of answering your question, but I don’t I can’t think of a particular Senate race where in a state that matters, where the senator is going to pull lots of votes that might help maybe Collins in Maine, but Maine has that thing that divides up its electoral to. Yeah, yeah. I don’t know, though, because Collins is. So what you would want in this case is so for some, you know, moderate Republican who’s going to vote for Susan Collins. To then come and vote and say, OK, well, I’ll vote for Donald Trump. I don’t think that person, you know, who is otherwise going to stay home, I don’t know how many of those people there are or the other one I could think of as Joni Ernst in Iowa, maybe.
S3: Yeah, but I don’t know. That’s a possibility. Last question on this topic is so in North Carolina, which is a race, I confess, I hadn’t been following very closely, Thom Tillis, the Republican incumbent, was running against a young younger Democrat named Cal Cunningham, who is one of these people who exists to be like a totally inoffensive white guy who a few rural Republicans would vote for. And Cal Cunningham has now gotten himself in a sexting scandal with a woman.
S6: He weirdly, it’s called a sexting scandal. I read some of the texts. Really, they’re not sexy. Send a picture for it to be sexting. I mean, you don’t have to be sexual. Yeah, it wasn’t saying. It was like it was it was pretty Harlequin was inappropriate because he is.
S3: Yeah. You know, he’s he’s a married man.
S4: I mean, if he’s where there was smoke, there was fire.
S3: Yeah. They had a at least one, maybe two rendezvous and now he’s been. But here you have this guy. He was he was not running away with the race, but he was definitely heading towards victory. And now he’s he’s just committed a kind of act of political stupidity and malpractice and. Yeah. Any thoughts on that one, Emily?
S1: I mean, I have the most boring thought, which is just like I don’t understand why people do this. And it does seem to be men who decide to sabotage their political careers in precisely this fashion. Like just this is not the time, dude.
S6: Like, why risk it all for really I just can’t get elected and get elected that have some nice lobbyists, mistresses.
S1: It just seems like a lot to put on, like pursuing this infatuated feeling. But I don’t know, maybe I’m just too old to understand.
S4: Well, I think they’re long been we’ve even talked about this on on this show, the Slate political gabfest, the connection between kind of political ambition and public desire for a claim in the public square and an association with, you know, boundary boundary challenging personal behavior in the sexual realm.
S1: I will just recommend Curtis Sittenfeld novel Rodham about the relationship between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Clinton for some insight into why someone named Bill Clinton might understand Cal Cunningham.
S3: Let us go to cocktail chatter when you are tired of of scrolling through five thirty eight and clicking on their map and are in the mood to sit back with a stiff drink and a soft conversation. Emily, what will you be chattering about?
S1: Sometimes I think that Attorney General Bill Barr just like imagines what could really make my hair stand on end. So the Justice Department just announced that they have lifted a rule that normally prevents investigations of election fraud in the final months before an election. Why would you have such a rule? Because you don’t want to have partisan meddling and you don’t want to erode confidence in the results. And so if you’re going to do an election fraud investigation, which you totally should do, if you think there’s election fraud, you want to do it spaced out away from the election no longer. And given how politicized the Justice Department has become, given that Delbar himself on television concocted a false tale, about 1700 ballots being filled out falsely in Texas about an indictment for such event, which such indictment did not happen. I just worry about lifting this rule right now and what that means about the kinds of tales of voter fraud that we are likely to hear in the next few weeks. The strategy seems to be that if you can’t win more votes in the election, you can undermine confidence in it. And this kind of longtime devotion to making claims of widespread voter fraud has been a Republican tactic for a long time. And I very much recommend to my colleague Jim Rutenberg piece in the Times magazine about it last week, but we should all kind of watch out for this new Justice Department policy.
S4: John Dickerson, what is your chatter? My chatter is about a super cutting edge weapon the Army recently announced, and it’s called knapping. I found this story in my local paper, which really works. And thanks to the eagle eyed, I found it because of my eagle eyed colleague. Clarify. So it’s not just any knapping. According to the Army’s revamped physical fitness training manual, it recommends knapping of the strategic and aggressive variety which lead you to the question what exactly is aggressive knapping?
S1: You know, attack the below, the really aggressive knapping. I’m not good at it.
S4: But this information can be found in the FMS seven stroke 22 holistic health and fitness system, which is any dummy nose is the field guide, I think is what it’s called anyway. It’s interesting, though, it focuses on holistic health. So it’s not just napping. So, OK, there’s the regular stuff, pull ups, all that stuff, but then there’s napping, goal setting, spirituality, journaling. And there’s no word yet on whether goup will be making a camouflage tone bold. But it’s it’s very cool and it basically just aggressively embraces all the new things that have been learned in the eight years since the manual was updated about the benefit and power of sleep. And this really matters because soldiers in combat resort to energy drinks, which means they’re frazzled. It’s difficult to do their duties, but it also means when they come back, if sleep is treated as a luxury and not as a basic requirement like, you know, other elements of physical fitness, then you basically self medicate with all kinds of things that don’t actually help your underlying health. And that matters, as I said, not just in the combat context, but when they come back because of the incredible amount of suffering and expenditure related to disability payments for veterans. So it’s a very although I started by being trying to be amusing about it, it’s a very cool development and, you know, more proof that if you take sleep seriously, it has all kinds of benefits.
S3: Sorry, just just just doing some strategic mapping there. Did you did you finish John yet? Yes, I did. My chatter is about the publication of a book that I’m really looking forward to. The 99 percent Invisible City, A Field Guide to the hidden world of everyday design. It is by Roman Mars and Kurt Kolstad. Roman is, of course, the creator. And Kerdasa is a colleague of Romanes of the 99 percent Invisible podcast. And I just want to claim that podcast, which hit its 10th anniversary this year. And and it’s really one of the great podcasts of the world. This book is going to be fantastic. The little bits of it. I’ve seen and heard Roman talk about our glorious and delightful, if you don’t know the podcast, 99 percent invisible. I just so strongly recommend you listen to it is about the small wonders of the world. The John Mouallem story about buffaloes is probably the greatest audio story that’s ever been told in podcast form, using the story about raccoons and garbage cans in Toronto. Epic about the history of the post office. Just incredible. It’s a wonderful, wonderful podcast. And this book is pulling together some of their best stories and in small essay form. So check out the 99 percent Invisible City and listeners. You have also sent us Great Chatter’s again, as I think John was named last week. Man, they are so good and there are so many good ones this week. This one very hard to pick. I went with you, Kevin Collins at Kevin Quassey. And what Kevin sends is a short film that’s been making its way around Twitter, which is a Eluay Lumière so early, early French film artist director. I don’t know why it was so far, so long ago. This is from 1896 that it’s like even you wouldn’t call him a director. It’s just somebody who film things. But Louis Lumiere had filmed a snowball fight in Lille, France, and when you see it, it’s in black and white. It’s very kitschy and and broken up. But someone has has some brilliant person, has colorized it and adjusted the speed in the way that that movie, they shall never grow old, did it for World War One footage. And so it’s now just this maybe a minute of footage of a snowball fight in France, including the someone’s biking by on a bicycle and everyone in the who’s throwing snowballs just teams up to throw snowballs at the person on the bicycle who falls over. It’s absolutely glorious. It is so cute and charming. And it’ll take maybe it’s maybe thirty seconds long. Check it out. We’ll post a link to it. And actually, the real revelation, John, maybe you’ll appreciate this, is that those Frenchies could actually throw like when I meet a French person these days, they can never throw because they don’t really play throwing sports very much. But French people back in 1896 actually had a decent arm. It makes me wonder, like what sport were they doing that caused them to throw back in? Oh, many thanks.
S4: Yeah, no baguette throwing. This is a huge sport in the 19th century in France.
S3: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The the Marseilles Mutare adds, I think won they won like three years in a row. Right in the league.
S4: And the reason it came to a screeching halt is that they got they colloquialism coincided with breadmaking. And ultimately when somebody would suggest that they go out and throw, somebody would just say, Bagert and they just stayed home.
S3: Yeah, yeah. No, that’s true. Everyone knows that story. That is our show for today. The gabfests is produced by Jocelin Franco, a researcher. Is Brigitte Dunlap doing some excellent midscale research today. Brigitte, good job. Gabriel Roth is editorial director of Slate podcast. June Thomas is managing producer. Alicia Montgomery is executive producer for Emily Bazelon. And John Dickerson, I’m David Plotz. Thanks for listening.
S7: And we’ll be back with you next week.
S3: Hello, Slate plus. So according to at least one report, thirty four people in the White House complex have been infected with covid. One thing that the White House seems to be doing is to. Be telling those people who to keep a lid on it, and in particular, there seems to be evidence that some of the White House staff, the permanent staff, two housekeepers in particular, have been infected with covid, but that they do not want that out there. Meanwhile, we have Secret Service agents who have had to keep very close company with the president. In particular, when the president was at Walter Reed, he did this right writer right around in a enclosed car with two Secret Service agents with him who are being directly exposed to to his unmasked virus shedding self. And he also rode, of course, in a helicopter, in an enclosed helicopter with them to Walter Reed. So I think the question is, who should have to come to work in the White House building in a White House building that is treating this disease so casually, where you have a sick boss roaming the halls and sticking his head into offices, who everyone in some office appears to be in the press office already, five people who appear to have been infected, but it does seem to be running rampant where testing is clearly not as regular as they say it is. People are not masking where care is not taken. So who has to to put their own health at risk and who does not? So I think there there are four categories of people that I can think of. One is the press, like, should the people who work by covering the White House have to show up and work in that building, too? Is the people who are directly work for the president, who are his political staff, who’ve been hired to help him implement his agenda. Three is the Secret Service who are there to protect the president and the first lady and and the building itself. And for are the White House permanent staff, who are the the folks who take care of the building, who take care of the president to clean the sheets, who host the receptions, who keep everyone fed and keep the place clean. So do they all have to show up? Are there different rules for each of them? Emily, thoughts?
S1: Well, let’s see. So, I mean, it seems like the most acute question is for the Secret Service, because they can’t disappear. They have to be there all the time. And they’ve also, as part of their job, decided that they are willing to take a bullet for the president. Like that’s a qualification for being a Secret Service agent. They expect that that’s how it goes. So when you have this kind of risk that is not from an hostile human enemy and that has been brought about in part because of the reckless behavior of the person you’re supposed to take care of, does that change what you’re expected to do, you know, watching Trump drive around in this sealed car with Secret Service agents who are wearing masks and some PPE, but they were still in a sealed box with him when he is for sure infectious. That was pretty heartbreaking because it seemed totally unnecessary, like it would be one thing if there was some exigent circumstance, but there wasn’t. He just wanted to show everyone that he was out of the hospital. So that just I guess the thing that’s so hard is that, like, you want people to do their duties, you want them to take reasonable risks to do their jobs. These are high level jobs. They matter. But Trump pushes things so far into the land of like forcing people into these contortions to do things that are not reasonable risks that with no acknowledgement of the really bad deal he is forcing on them. And so then that starts making you feel like no one should have to do anything.
S4: I was reminded by my new favorite show in the world, MacDonald and Dods, the that I hope isn’t a spoiler for anybody, but now everyone’s watching it since you recommended it last night. Watch out there trying to push people. But they were trying to push gods out of his job. And so they set him they put his office, put his desk underneath a air conditioning vent. So he has to wear like a coat and a scarf when he’s sitting at his desk. And that was what reminded me of the Secret Service. So it’s their duty to be there. And just for such tiny beer, which is the approving wave of those who went out to Walter Reed, of course, they should do it, but it’s not really respecting the the duty they’ve been asked to do.
S3: Just as an aside, if you were trying to constructively drive me out of my job, like what you would do is put me put me under any air conditioning vent, I’d be so happy. I’d be joyful, put me put me under. But if you put me in a really hot room. I would be out of there so fast, so any future employer that wants to get rid of me, that’s the way to get rid of me. Hot room, loud hot room, or I’ll do something else. I actually think there’s different standards. I think what you guys said exactly about how to do that, the the way the president has trivialized he’s taken this thing, which is so serious, which is the oath, the responsibility of the Secret Service agents have taken to protect the country. And he’s made it so trivial by by having them endanger themselves for such a stupid thing. I don’t think the press should show up at the White House anymore. I think if if the White House is being this casual about it, they should send a camera and like, just not this is they are being irresponsible and they’re irresponsible with the health. They’re already reporters. I think some of your colleagues at the times that have been infected, who have been infected, I think they should, you know, make it make a hopefully a collective decision to say if this is if this is how you treat us, if this is the way your attitude towards the health and safety of the people who are coming to work here, we are just not going to be part of it. I think the president’s own staff obviously has the people who are political appointees have to show up. And they it is shameful that they are so irresponsible. And the people who lead that that who have led that White House have not thought carefully about the health of the people who are working for them. But if you’re a press aide or your your you work in the domestic policy office. Yeah. You need to show up and you need to probably complain to your supervisor, hey, we’re not you know, we’re not masking here. We’re not there’s not enough circulation, blah, blah, blah. But I think you have to show up and Secret Service similarly. You have to show up. I don’t think if you are a White House domestic employee, I think it is totally unreasonable for those people to have to come to work. They did not there. That is their responsibility. Of course they are. They are there to serve the country and to serve the president. And working in the White House is in itself like a special responsibility. But I think it is crazy to think that just because you’ve done that you that you should have to go to work in a place that is explicitly not safe. They did not sign up for hazard pay. They did not sign up for a risky job. And when you have a boss and a an employer that is acting so recklessly, I don’t think that it is right to make them them have to work under those circumstances. So they should not be compelled between them in the Secret Service or between them and the political staff, the political staff or the political side. Well, they’ve signed up to work for Donald Trump. They’ve signed up to work for Donald Trump and to implement the policies that Donald Trump is there to implement. And a Donald Trump cannot the job he cannot do his job to run the country without that staff there. So those people have to be there and be like they are his policies or the things that are the reckless part of it, like the reason they shouldn’t show the reason they’ve said, I want to work for this president. This president is pursuing reckless policies. OK, well, I’m going to come and work to carry those out. But the people who are the permanent White House staff are just saying, I’m here to serve the institution of the White House and the institution of the presidency and to do it, you know, as a job which has somewhat more it has more more chandeliers and more CRISTOL and more responsibility than it might be if you were doing the same thing at a at just Jeff Bezos mansion down the street. But you’re not you haven’t signed up to say, I endorse these policies and I’m willing to expose myself to any risk for these policies. That doesn’t it doesn’t seem right. It seems wrong that like because your boss has been so fucking irresponsible that you should have to that you should have to then show up just to do something which is not necessary, like it isn’t. They will get fed. There will be food there. There will be you know, the president can make his own baloney sandwich if he needs to. So I guess that’s my my take is that could be that that set of staff should not have to show up. And I don’t think the press should have to show up.
S1: I mean, I think you can multiply the concerns about the staff across all of these people who got infected in this super spreader event, because surely there are more people who work for these families who are at risk because of it. I mean, David, do you think that political appointees should be able to work remotely if they can do their jobs perfectly well that way?
S3: Yeah, I think yes, of course, as with all employers, but I also think that if it is, I there’s lots of national security issues where you can’t just be like, oh, I’m going to be on a zoom call in my apartment and talking about, you know, the latest the latest national security issue, which my neighbor is going to over here. You can’t. There are lots of people who simply cannot work remotely who do those jobs. So fair enough. John, do you think. Do you think there’s any chance that the White House press corps would not show up, given the the like the massive OSHA violation that is the White House right now?
S4: I think some have already said they won’t until they get more information. Bridget is just reminding me I wasn’t quite sure if this was true of BuzzFeed has pulled their reporter from the White House. I don’t think they would all refuse to show up, in part because it’s too. I think there’s too much I mean, it’s where the story is. And reporting from inside the howling emptiness of the White House is important and metaphorically fascinating, not to mention it’s what everybody’s curious about. So I don’t think they’ll I don’t think they’ll disengage.
S3: All right. Slate plus, catch you next week. Bye bye.