Dear Reader,

The nation is engulfed in crisis. A massive and urgent response is needed. The people are on edge, fearful. All this as election day draws near, and a presidential debate looms. Is it a time for politics as usual or something different?

That was the question facing John McCain 12 years ago when he was the GOP candidate for president. America was on the brink of financial meltdown. Alan Greenspan called the crisis a “once-in-a-century type of event.” Black Monday came on September 15, 2008, when both Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers collapsed. Four days later, President Bush’s treasury secretary announced a $700 billion bailout plan. Over the course of a week, candidate Obama’s polling numbers began to tick up, as McCain slipped.

McCain decided to make a dramatic move. On September 24th, he announced, “Tomorrow morning, I will suspend my campaign and return to Washington after speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative. I have spoken to Senator Obama and informed him of my decision and have asked him to join me.” McCain pulled down his campaign ads and suspended fundraising.

He canceled an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, but kept to his interview with Katie Couric. He suggested he wouldn’t participate in the upcoming presidential debate, scheduled for two days later. He somberly said, “With so much on the line, for America and the world, the debate that matters most right now is taking place in the United States Capitol.”

The maverick move was intended to show that McCain was above debauched politics, above the polarized fray. But of course it was, at base, a political gambit. And it failed because it was seen as such. Within two days, the Arizona Senator changed course again, quietly resumed his campaign, and participated in the scheduled debate.

Fast forward to the present. Again we are a nation in crisis, struggling to contain a once-in-a-century pandemic that has already claimed more than 200,000 lives. And in the midst of an unchecked virus and early voting, President Trump himself contracts COVID-19, is airlifted to Walter Reed, and treated with experimental therapies.

What should Joe Biden do? Is it a time to be above politics? Should he suspend his own campaign in a show of grace towards an “honorable” adversary? Some in the Trump campaign called for that. Or should he continue as before, maybe even step it up a little?

Joe Biden chose a middle course – suspending only all negative campaign ads while the President was hospitalized. Some Trump critics were not keen on this unilateral disarmament.

The Lincoln Project posted this:

Biden should put his negative ads back up. This is outrageous. He deserves no courtesy.

Vox journalist Aaron Rupar had this to say:

As Biden pauses negative advertising while Trump is hospitalized, a reminder that Trump not only didn’t do the same when Hillary Clinton had a bout of pneumonia in 2016, but actually cut ads attacking Clinton’s health  

I don’t blame them. I had mixed feelings myself.

For one thing, Biden has run some knockout positive spots, but insofar as this election is a referendum on Trump’s fitness for office, the negative ones make powerful arguments, often using Trump’s own words against him.

Then there is always this thought experiment: what would Trump do if the shoe were on the other foot? Imagine “sleepy” Joe Biden contracted COVID-19 and was in the hospital. Is there any universe in which Trump would suspend negative ads? No. On the contrary, the Trump we have come to know would have weaponized Biden’s illness against him (see, e.g., the Clinton parallel, above). He would have called the Democrat weak and unfit. He would have told him to drop out of the race. He would have said such an infirm man couldn’t protect the nation from a virus that he himself contracted. Suspend negative ads? It’s not hard to see Trump demanding the creation of new negative ads to take advantage of Biden’s illness. Even in the wake of Biden’s decision, Trump’s campaign declined to do the same – running their usual raft of negative ads while Trump was receiving steroids and supplemental oxygen in the hospital.

So why did Biden do it? Sure, as with the McCain move, there is the whiff of political gambit, though in this case it was smarter politics. But more importantly, it is a reflection of who Joe Biden is – a decent man with grace and perspective who doesn’t change himself in the heat of battle, who doesn’t cave to calls to pile on, who does what he feels is right. I’m happy that he is who he is and that he is my candidate.

In any event, with a maskless Trump preening before cameras in the White House and subjecting aides to the virus in the Oval Office when he is almost certainly still contagious, the Biden campaign has resumed airing the negative spots.

And I’m happy about that too.

My best,

Preet

In Body Image

Voter Suppression in Texas 
By Sam Ozer-Staton

Republicans around the country are escalating their attacks on voting rights.

On today’s episode of Stay Tuned, “Can Trump Steal The Election?” Preet speaks with top election lawyer Marc Elias, who is overseeing the Biden campaign’s state-by-state legal war room, about the various ways that President Trump could attempt to undermine the election.

Elias also discusses his extensive active voting rights cases, including a lawsuit filed just last week to challenge Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s proclamation limiting ballot drop-off locations to just one per county.

In a press conference on Thursday, Gov. Abbott said that the new rule is designed to prevent voter fraud:

The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections. As we work to preserve Texans’ ability to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take extra care to strengthen ballot security protocols throughout the state. These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.

Abbott’s order dramatically impacts many of the state’s larger counties, including Harris County, the third most populous county in the country. Under the new rule, Harris County — a Democratic stronghold which encompasses all of Houston and is home to nearly five million people — will see its ballot drop-off locations reduced from 12 to one.

On Stay Tuned, Elias told Preet that the move to limit drop-off locations represents an escalation of Republican voter suppression tactics, which until now had focused on reducing third-party ballot collection, mail-in voting, and remote drop-boxes. “Yeah, so it’s terrible, number one. Number two, it actually proves the limitless effort by Republicans to make voting harder,” Elias said.

In a complaint filed this week on behalf of the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans, Elias and his team allege that Abbott’s rule “directly threatens the right to vote for countless lawful Texas voters.” The plaintiffs also include Laurie Jo-Straty, a 65-year-old resident of Dallas County who suffers from multiple sclerosis  and faces several barriers to voting, and Bigtent Creative, an advocacy organization dedicated to turning out young voters. The plaintiffs “seek emergency relief from this Court to enjoin the unlawful [restriction].”

The lawsuit argues that, among other things, the drop-off restriction violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, which, according to the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, protects “the equal weight accorded to each vote and the equal dignity owed to each voter.” The plaintiffs also argue that the restriction “treats Texans differently depending on where they live: those that live in counties with bigger populations and counties with bigger land masses will be burdened more than those that live in counties with smaller populations and counties covering smaller geographic areas.”

When Preet asked Elias whether he would “win that one,” Elias replied:

God, I hope so. I hope so….If ever there was something that you’d think everyone could agree on it would be that people being able to hand in their completed ballot in-person to an election official should not be limited.

What is your reaction to the Republicans’ latest voter suppression tactic?

Write to us at [email protected] with your thoughts or reply to this email.

FOLLOW

Democracy Docket is Marc Elias’ platform that provides up-to-date information about voting rights, elections, and redistricting. Follow them @DemocracyDocket and check out their full active cases dashboard on their website.  And for more commentary on election-related issues, follow Marc Elias, @marcelias.

In Body Image

— To listen to Insider content on your favorite podcast app, follow these instructions.

— Listen to this week’s episode of Stay Tuned, “Can Trump Steal The Election?” featuring Marc Elias. And don’t forget to listen to the bonus for CAFE Insiders, where Elias tells Preet what it’s like to represent every single elected Democrat in Congress.

— Listen to this week’s episode of CAFE Insider, “Covid-in-Chief,” where Preet and Anne discuss Trump’s battle with COVID-19, the latest on the Amy Coney Barrett SCOTUS confirmation fight, “anarchist juridictions,” and more.

— Look out for Friday’s new episode of Cyber Space. Shawn Henry, president of CrowdStrike, one of the world’s top cybersecurity firms, joins John Carlin to discuss election security, the threat of disinformation campaigns, and how cyber attacks have evolved over the last decade.


That’s it for this week. We hope you’re enjoying CAFE Insider. Reply to this email or write to us at [email protected] with your thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

— Edited by Tamara Sepper

The CAFE Team:

Tamara Sepper, Adam Waller, Sam Ozer-Staton, David Kurlander, Noa Azulai, Jake Kaplan, Calvin Lord, David Tatasciore, Matthew Billy, and Nat Weiner