We may not know the true extent of Donald Trump's recovery, but he's effectively back on the campaign trail. He called into Rush Limbaugh's radio show yesterday and is scheduled to address hundreds of supporters from a White House balcony later today.
Trump odds reflect one in three chance
On Monday he plans to visit Orlando, Florida for more campaigning. Polls suggest he has a huge mountain to climb to win the election and Betfair markets are becoming more sceptical. He's out to 2/13.0 in this morning's trading, equivalent to a 33% chance. Joe Biden is at 1/21.5 (67%).
Neither man, however, will be appearing in what was planned to be the second TV debate. That was cancelled yesterday after the Trump team rejected plans for a virtual debate. It remains unclear whether agreement can be met on conditions for the next one, scheduled for 22nd October.
Covid-stricken GOP still downplaying virus
Most obviously, it must be a safe, Covid-free environment. The White House still won't confirm when Trump last tested negative. Several advisors and prominent Republicans have the virus. Senator Lindsay Graham is further damaging his re-election bid by refusing to test before his own debate in South Carolina tonight.
From Trump down, the party refuses to take the necessary precautions. Will his audience be wearing masks at the White House today? Dr Fauci declared their event announcing Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination to have been a 'super-spreader'.
There's also the rules to consider. After Trump's constant interruptions and arguments with the moderator ruined the first, the Debates Commission announced they were considering new rules. Trump was dismissive. This was the day before announcing his infection.
Given that Trump is trailing by 10% in the polls, one would think he would be itching for any debate. Any opportunity to damage his opponent and change the electoral weather. Likewise, why should Biden care if he's not exposed to the potential banana-skin of a debate?
Biden happy to play safe, protect lead
The front-runner would logically want to play it safe at this stage. Keep pushing the messages that are working. Visit key states. Address key audiences. For TV, set up Town Hall events where he speaks directly to the voter. Leave Trump to be Trump and continue alienating a majority of the country.
Trying to evaluate the true state and motives of the Trump administration is a tricky business at the best of times. Even less when personally stricken by Covid one month out from polling day. Hours after the campaign fell off a cliff in the first debate.
Virus has left Trump campaign in disarray
My best guess is the team are panicked and yet also completely subservient to Trump. Hence all the, perhaps unnecessary, disinformation and resistance to scrutiny. Trump apparently wants to get out front and explain how ill he was. He would love an in-person debate but will never accept any version where his spoiling tactics are outlawed.
There may be other motives, too. Tactically, the campaign appear to appear to be giving up. They've been withdrawing ads from must-win Mid-West states for weeks. If not already then very soon, Republicans might move into damage limitation mode.
Can GOP afford another debate disaster?
That first debate was one of the most significant moments of Trump's presidency. It may be trivial compared to countless 'real-world' events on his resume but that cut through in the polls like very little else.
The race appeared set for a 6-8% Biden win. Polls were near static and only 3% of those watching the debate were defined as persuadable beforehand. The lead is now 10% and some quite shocking numbers are appearing on the margins.
Meanwhile, control of the Senate is still very much in play. Republicans need the bleeding to stop before they can even think of recovery. And they have only 24 days to do it.
This was an important backdrop to the VP Debate. My analysis was that, political preferences aside, it was only a marginal win for Harris. She did a sound, professional job, without any weaknesses or failures. She had the material to excoriate Pence and Trump and did that well.
Pence was competent. Yes, completely dishonest about Covid and ridiculous in labelling the California Senator a 'communist', but that was to be expected.
Pence is a limited but safer candidate
As explained in the preview, he was there to sell Trump's talking points and did as an effective job as the material allowed. Their exchanges demonstrated the profound differences between Republicans and Democrats.
That is a positive for the GOP right now, because they are shedding support to their political enemies due to their leader's unpopularity. Were Pence out front for the rest of the campaign, or even the candidate, I think he'd outperform Trump and Senate seats might be saved. These post-debate numbers spoke volumes.
They are a mirror of so many other polls during the Trump era. The remarkable, unprecedented stability of his approval rating in the low to mid forties. Polls around his impeachment. His vote share versus Biden. It also often applies to the 'hot issues' where Trump inevitably takes one side and doubles down. On his weakest subjects - Covid, Russia, white supremacy - support slips into the thirties.
Nobody changed their mind about Pence. A few did about Harris but that was probably because they didn't know her well beforehand. Nobody is changing their mind. Opinion is entrenched and the real question for Republicans is whether they want to keep Trump from doing further damage.
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