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The Morning Dispatch: What Trump’s Polling Numbers Mean for the Senate
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The Morning Dispatch: What Trump’s Polling Numbers Mean for the Senate

Plus, the new head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media faces bipartisan rebuke.

Happy Thursday! Reminder: We have another Dispatch Live tonight! It’s the perfect way to cap off another newsy week and transition to a (socially distanced) holiday weekend. Grab a snack, bring a beverage, and we’ll chat for about an hour. You can register here if you haven’t already, drop a question in the comments or in a reply to this email, and remember the new time this week: 5:30 p.m. ET / 2:30 p.m. PT. A happy hour for folks out East and an excuse to take a break from work or simply break up the afternoon for everyone else. If you haven’t been before, give it a shot. See you soon!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Wednesday night, 2,685,806 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States (an increase of 51,374 from yesterday) and 128,061 deaths have been attributed to the virus (an increase of 651 from yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, leading to a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 4.8 percent (the true mortality rate is likely much lower, between 0.4 percent and 1.4 percent, but it’s impossible to determine precisely due to incomplete testing regimens). Of 32,827,359 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States (621,114 conducted since yesterday), 8.2 percent have come back positive.

  • The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) officially went into effect yesterday, replacing NAFTA as North America’s new trade deal.

  • Thousands of Hong Kong protesters demonstrated against Beijing’s new national security law Wednesday. Protesters were met with pepper spray and tear gas, and Hong Kong police officers made about 370 arrests.

  • The Biden campaign and DNC outraised the Trump campaign and RNC for a second straight month in June, $141 million to $131 million. Trump likely still holds the cash-on-hand advantage, however, with $295 million in the bank. Team Biden has not yet released that figure.

  • Gun sales soared to 2.3 million in June, a 145.3 percent increase over June 2019. With 8.3 million firearms sold in the United States since March, retailers are having a hard time meeting demand.

  • American and Afghan intelligence officials identified Rahmatullah Azizi—a drug smuggler and contractor—as the middleman between Russia and the Taliban. Azizi “ for years handed out money from a Russian military intelligence unit to reward Taliban-linked fighters for targeting American troops in Afghanistan,” the New York Times reports.

  • Republicans in Congress are planning to introduce legislation that would block President Trump’s efforts to withdraw 9,500 U.S. troops from Germany by September 30.

Is Trump Going to Cost Republicans the Senate?

As recently as May 31, President Trump was still favored in betting odds to win November’s election. Now he’s nearly a 23-point underdog. 

Political betting markets are far from scientific—they tend to say more about public perception of a candidate’s campaign than actual voter preferences—but polling is, and that doesn’t look too good for the president right now, either. As it stands, Trump’s polling numbers—both nationally and in key battleground states—are among the worst for an incumbent in recent presidential history. Down-ballot Republicans are starting to take notice.

The president’s base has remained largely loyal to him over the past three years, but the reluctant Trump voters and Republican-leaning moderates who were responsible for putting him over the edge in 2016 are less of a sure bet. A New York Times/Siena College poll yesterday found that while 86 percent of 2016 Trump voters in battleground states say they will vote for the president again, 6 percent say there’s “not really any chance” they will cast their vote for him in November.

The election, of course, is in November—not this week. Democrats expecting today’s electoral conditions to hold up over the next four months are forgetting just how much news this administration generates. Remember Suleimani? Impeachment? But this new New York Times survey—coupled with months of polling showing a widening gap between Trump and Joe Biden—does not bode well for Trump’s hopes of keeping the White House in 2020. For a president who essentially won by 107,000 votes in three states (and a fraction of a percentage point in others) in 2016, “even a modest erosion in his support imperils his re-election chances,” the Times writes.

“The numbers in battleground states are certainly worse for Trump this time, but we’re also talking about more states than we were in 2016,” says Doug Heye, a former top Republican adviser in Congress and at the RNC. “We’re talking about North Carolina, Texas, and Georgia in ways that we weren’t last time. And he’s down massively in Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania. So those realities are problematic for the president, and they’re also very problematic for Republicans down ballot.”

Large majorities of Americans—and even the majority of Republicans, according to new data—say they are dissatisfied with the direction the country is going. The president’s coronavirus response approval rating has consistently been underwater since early April, and public polling shows that Americans have more favorable views of Biden than Trump on virtually every major issue with the exception of the economy. 

It’s worth noting that high disapproval ratings on their own do not necessarily translate into electoral outcomes: Trump’s 2016 victory was in no small part due to a preponderance of voters who found him profoundly distasteful but marginally preferable to Hillary Clinton. But while the Biden campaign is not without its problems—“It’s challenging to try to unite the country at a time when his party wants to move further and further to the left in a very confrontational way,” Heye says—the White House should be concerned by the fact the former vice president is, by nearly all indications, far more popular than Clinton.

Trump and his surrogates have dismissed the negative polling, pointing to the president’s upset win in 2016 as reason to discount his recent bad numbers. (National polling by election day 2016 was actually fairly in line with Clinton’s 2 percent popular vote win, but several key state polls were not as accurate.) “It’s really difficult to get an accurate depiction of where things stand in these races currently,” a GOP strategist with firsthand knowledge of the situation said. “It’s very difficult to predict what’s going to happen four months from now. There’s a whole lot of volatility. And right now, that’s what Republican senators are contending with.”

Trump’s unpopularity is a ticking time bomb for the Republicans’ precarious Senate majority. While Democrats probably stand to lose in at least one state—Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama—Republican senators are facing difficult re-election campaigns in several: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia (two seats), Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina all stand to be competitive elections in November. And states like Colorado—where incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner is likely to be defeated by former governor John Hickenlooper—are practically a done deal for Democrats.

Will Republicans in purple states attempt to distance themselves from the president as he continues to alienate moderates and independents? As of now, it’s still unlikely. According to the GOP strategist speaking on background to The Dispatch, the party’s senators are likely to focus their time and resources in the next few months on distinguishing themselves from their Democratic colleagues. “The Republicans really need to focus on drawing this important contrast between their vision and what they’ve accomplished, the fact that voters can trust their judgment and their ability to deliver to their states, and compare that with their opponents who are untested, unproven and likely to pose a greater risk at a time when there are really serious challenges facing the nation,” he said.

New Voice of America Head Faces Rebuke—From Both Parties

We wrote to you a couple weeks back about Michael Pack—President Trump’s appointee to head the U.S. Agency for Global Media—and his purging of top officials at the government-funded but editorially independent collection of news networks meant to project a pro-America voice around the globe. Walter Shaub, the Obama administration’s director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, called the development the “Breitbartization of U.S. government media,” referencing Pack’s close ties to former Breitbart head Steve Bannon.

Bipartisanship is rare these days. But those changes moved a bipartisan collection of senators—Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Jerry Moran, Dick Durbin, Chris Van Hollen, and Patrick Leahy—to send a striking letter yesterday expressing concern about these moves and Pack’s potential politicization of the agency.

“The termination of qualified, expert staff and network heads for no specific reason as well as the removal of their boards raises questions about the preservation of these entities and their ability to implement their statutory missions now and in the future,” it reads. “These actions, which came without any consultation with Congress, let alone notification, raise serious questions about the future of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) under your leadership.”

“The credibility and independence of these networks, as required by law, is critical for audiences overseas living under repressive regimes, the network’s brave journalists who often come under threat for their work, and the future of U.S. broadcasting,” the letter continues. “Given the bipartisan and bicameral concern with recent events, we intend to do a thorough review of USAGM’s funding to ensure that United States international broadcasting is not politicized and the agency is able to fully and effectively carry out its core mission.”

A spokesman for Rubio pointed us to a statement the senator made on June 19. “At a time when malign actors, like Russia and China, are spreading misinformation and propaganda as well as undermining democratic norms globally, it is critical that the U.S. Agency for Global Media is independent and nonpartisan.”

Worth Your Time

  • Should we tear down monuments of deeply flawed historical figures when their actions on a whole tended toward the arc of justice? Boyd Matheson from Deseret News certainly doesn’t think so. “To arrogantly, by choice or cowardly by vandalism, tear down, disfigure or destroy monuments to those critical, complex and courageous figures in our nation’s history is indeed a monumental mistake,” he writes. Boyd argues that removing statues of less-than-perfect people loses sight of the American path toward progress by depriving future generations of some of history’s most important lessons. This pairs well with Politico’s piece on the descendants of Confederate generals who are happy to see their ancestors’ legacies erased from the public square. “I support removal of all statues commemorating and celebrating the Southern Confederates in public locations,” the great-great-grandson of Major General George E. Pickett said. “They should be permanently removed and either destroyed or sunk in the ocean for a fishing/diving reef: the Graveyard of the Confederacy.”

  • Jonathan Irons—a 40-year-old black man who was sentenced at the age of 18 to 50 years in prison for burglary and assault with a weapon in 1998—was released from Missouri’s Jefferson City Correctional Center on Wednesday. Irons has insisted he was misidentified all those years ago, and a judge vacated his conviction in March, saying the case against him was “very weak and circumstantial at best.” Irons’ pursuit of freedom was championed by former WNBA first overall draft pick, rookie of the year, MVP, and five-time all star Maya Moore. Moore, 31, put her career on hold—taking the 2019 season off—to focus on securing Irons’ freedom. Katie Barnes tells the story of her quest for justice in a wonderful piece for ESPN.

  • The world is still haunted by the nuclear meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant less than a decade ago. But meltdowns may become a relic of the past thanks to triso (tristructural isotropic) fueled “power balls.” Check out Daniel Oberhaus’ recent article in Wired for a deep dive into the technology that’s shaping the future of safe and cheap nuclear energy.

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • We here at The Dispatch are generally skeptical of “cancel culture” run amok, but there may be certain instances of it that everyone can get behind. Take, for example, the so-called progressive president who screened Birth of a Nation in the White House and re-segregated the federal government. Check out the Wednesday G-File (🔒) to get up to speed on Jonah’s renewed case for canceling Woodrow Wilson [insert “dun dun dun” sound effect].

  • As every loyal TMD reader knows, Supreme Court nerdery abounds within the Dispatch universe. Catch the latest Advisory Opinions podcast to get David and Sarah’s thoughts on Espinoza’s protection of religious liberty in school choice as well as the legal and political ramifications of the June Medical Services ruling.

  • We know that the Russian bounties were paid to Taliban insurgents. But we still don’t know whether that hush money is directly responsible for the death of American troops. In yesterday’s Vital Interests newsletter(🔒), Thomas Joscelyn provides a recap on the Taliban as well as some much-needed analysis on the chain of events linked to this intelligence leak.

  • In yesterday’s Dispatch Podcast, Sarah and the guys discussed Russia’s bounties on American and coalition forces in Afghanistan, the battle for control of the Senate, and cancel culture’s effect on our national conversation about race in America.

Let Us Know

Setting aside what you want to happen in the presidential and Senate elections, what do you think the outcome in November will be? Now, setting aside what you think is going to happen in the presidential and senate elections, what do you want the outcome in November to be?

Also: Last call for Dispatch Live questions! Drop ‘em below and we’ll do our best to get to as many as we can. ‘See’ you at 5:30 p.m. ET!

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Nate Hochman (@njhochman), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photographs by Getty Images.