Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: We're in the home stretch of the presidential campaign

Sep 08, 2020

Columnist Eugene Robinson will be online every Tuesday at 1 p.m. Eastern for Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson, where he'll talk about the latest political and cultural developments. Catch up on the transcript of his latest chat below.

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Hello, everybody, and welcome to the official home stretch of the presidential campaign. That's the cliched conventional wisdom, at least -- that Labor Day is when The Voters begin actually paying attention. I don't believe this has ever really been true, and I certainly don't think it's true this year. No human being on earth could be uninformed about this year's election, given that we've been talking about it in excruciating detail for two full years. And I find it hard to imagine how pollsters still find people who say they are undecided between Trump and Biden. How can anyone straddle the fence between the two, when there is no fence. The two candidates occupy entirely separate universes, and between them lies a vast cosmic void. Absentee voters in North Carolina are already receiving their ballots, so actual voting is officially underway. I hope Big Pharma has produced enough Xanax to get the nation through the next two months (or three, depending on how long it takes to tally the final result). Vote, everybody. Vote. Let's get started.

Is that they fear Liberalism more than Trump. I believe that is POTUS's last grasp, to fear monger high taxes, take away guns, free things into the ground. The GOP is putting this as a referendum on progressive policy more than Trump. They seem to gloss over everything he has done, and when you mention it, they don't care (unqualified kids as WH advisors? how is that even possible?). What can Biden do to promote sanity, professionalism and just a common sense of normalcy? We don't need huge policy plans, Biden needs to scrap that stuff.

Then those "conservatives" will vote for Trump -- although the way he has governed has nothing to do with traditional conservative principles, with the arguable exception of his judicial appointees, which he let the Federalist Society select for him. I don't understand how true-believer conservatives could possibly vote for Trump to be reelected. But I do understand how some people may seek, and find, excuses to vote for him. Pretending (absurdly) that Joe Biden is some kind of socialist would be one of those excuses.

Have you researched the numbers of Americans planning to emigrate if Trump wins? Even in my early 80s, I am trying to figure out where to go. I do not want to live four more years in a country tyrannized by Trump and his criminal gang.

Since Americans are still barred from even visiting so many countries -- because the Trump administration so bungled its response to the pandemic and covid-19 remains rampant here -- I think would-be emigres must be putting their contingency plans on hold. 

Eugene, will his candidacy claim enough votes to sway the election one way or the other? We remember John Anderson taking enough votes from Carter to give Reagan a victory. And, Ross Perot took enough votes from H. W. Bush to put Clinton in the Whitehouse. Ralph Nader in 2000 took enough votes from Al Gore for W. Bush to win the election. In 2016, Jill Stein took votes from Hilary Clinton in key battleground states, and as they say, the rest is history. Your gut feeling today is?

Your recollection of the 1980 election is wrong; Reagan crushed Carter, winning 44 states, and Anderson (who took no states) was not a real factor. Perot, Nader and Stein did play consequential roles, though it's hard to be sure if those roles were decisive. In any event, West seems likely to be a non-factor. There are lots of things you might lose sleep over, but West costing Biden the election isn't one of them.

The firehose of Trump's indiscretions and scandals haven't seemed to put a dent in his supporters but The Atlantic Magazine's reporting on his trashing of veterans, POWs, and fallen soldiers seems different. Do you sense the same thing? At least Trump has been forced to play defense for days instead of focusing totally on Biden.

I'm going to keep my perfect record intact. To this day, I've managed never to write, "Finally, surely, this time Trump has gone so far and driven away his flag-waving base." And I'm not saying that now. Yes, clearly Trump and the White House are worried about the impact these revelations could have. But I'll believe this time is different when I see Trump's poll numbers take a nosedive -- and fail to bounce back. I know that logic suggests this should really hurt him. But so far there's no evidence that any such outrage will cool the ardor of Trump's loyal base.

Hi Gene -- thanks for taking questions today and for your recent column. It seems like the books are coming fast and furiously, with Mary Trump's a few weeks ago (seems a lot longer), Cohen's due soon and then Woodward's on Sept. 15 (though I know in terms of the authors they are very different things, neither is likely to be flattering). In your view, what impact do these have on the electorate? It seems to me that, while they get a lot of initial attention and dominate a few news cycles, they merely confirm what we already know about Trump, and in the end no minds are really changed. Voters who dislike Trump still dislike him, and his supporters think it's just another example of the evil media trying to take him down.

You sum it up pretty well. I never discount the possibility that Woodward (whom I've known for, gulp, 40 years) might come up with something so explosive that it actually moves the needle. And I doubt any of these books will do much to help Trump. But it will be voters, not authors, who ultimately take him down.

"Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" There's no point in asking the president. He's never had one. But I'd like to see this question posed to each and every one of his enablers, directly, and often, by journalists and in campaign advertising. Because if nothing else, this election is a referendum on the decency of American people. Would you agree?

I'll put it this way: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Trump lied, cheated and stole his way to victory in 2016; that's on him. But if he gets reelected, well, that's on us, the American people. 

Why isn’t anyone in media asking about Trump’s taxes. He’s running for a candidate for president and it seems that he’s been effective in shouting that down during his term and now keeps throwing a different distraction every day. Is there a certain time for the issues to go through the news cycle and then on to something else? It seems the cable news showing the same four issues every day hour after hour for each show after the hosts change. Often they bring on the same analyst to discuss on different shows and Trump takes advantage of that, often tweeting a little tidbit to keep it going. It’s so obvious when Trump is lying, but the hosts act as if they have to give him his respect as the president. Is all this overload making voters complacent?

The basic problem is that there is no law requiring Trump to release his taxes. We can ask, demand, yell, scream until we're blue in the face, but he's not going to release them. And nobody can make him. So we have to kick him out of the White House by voting against him in November. 

One cannot seem to view media today for more than 5 minutes without hearing of the results of another poll? Did not 2016 teach us anything about their lack.of credibility? Why does the reporting of these numbers continue to matter at the media level of most got it so wrong in the last election. Thank you

The polls did not get it "so wrong" in 2016. The national polls were off by about one percentage point. The problem was that there were not enough high-quality state polls to reveal how surprisingly strong Trump was in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. You should be hoping for more polls this time around, not fewer, especially at the state level.

I assume Trump planned to visit the Shanksville, PA., crash site on because: a) he's unwelcome in NYC, especially because of all his lies re 9/11; b) his QAnon supporters probably think the Pentagon attack was a hoax, and the flight's passengers are still living on a remote island; and, c) Pennsylvania is a "swing state' so Trump will use Shanksville as an election campaign stop. Agree?

I think possibilities "a" and "c" are correct. I'm not sure about "b," but it makes as much sense as most of the Qanon gibberish, so why not?

Good morning - I'd like to hear your opinion on why the polls in the Presidential election are so close? How am I to process the fact that so many of my 'fellow' citizens support Trump despite all the evidence of his ineptness and lack of leadership?

I know it's hard, but deal with it. Yes, many millions of Americans are going to vote for President Trump. Rather than obsess about that fact, the thing to do is to make sure that many, many more millions vote for Joe Biden.

I live in the blue state of WA state, so there isn't a great need to campaign here (In fact, the campaign-road not taken leads straight to Seattle.), or try to round up voters. Can you suggest other ways blue-state dems can help get a Biden/Harris/U.S. victory? (I don't have much money to contribute but I'm willing to sell a kidney if it helps beat Trump.)

Keep your kidney! I'm sure that if you get in touch with the Democratic Party at the local or national level, they'll be happy to find ways for you to contribute.

Bill Barr says he doesn't believe there is systemic racism. He says "Didn't Jesse Jackson say that when he looks behind him and he sees a group of young Black males walking behind him, he's more scared than when he sees a group of White youths walking behind him...Does that make him a racist?" Obviously Barr took this out of context and my question is, isn't that quote an exact illustration of systemic racism? Do you think Barr doesn't understand systemic racism or does he choose to pretend he doesn't?

Barr mangled and distorted that quote from Rev. Jackson, probably deliberately. What Jackson actually said (paraphrasing here) was that he was "ashamed" that if he was walking down the street late at night and heard someone behind him, he was relieved if it was a white person. And you're right -- he was saying that to illustrate the systemic racism that permeates our society. Barr and many (if not most) Republicans fail to understand, or fail to acknowledge, that no one is immune from the disease of racism. They don't see that making a police department more diverse does not automatically change a racist culture that treats Black communities like zones under armed military-style occupation.

Mr. Robinson, do you think President Trump has encouraged an increase in white terrorism or was it going to grow no matter who was president? It seems there is more hate and more whites carrying guns in military gear but did they just come out of the shadows?

A proper answer would be book-length. The short answer is that the fire was already burning, smoldering, and Trump fanned the flames.

It's now been about 6 weeks since the Post adopted Black and White. Although this is not a new idea (the American Psychological Association began using Black and White more than 20 years ago), I agree with the arguments by the AP and others that white should remain lowercase even if Black deserves a cap B. Do you submit your columns with "black" and/or "white" lowercase? Whether you use the caps or whether copy desk makes the changes, it's certainly awkward to read "White" in all cases *except* "white supremacy" and "white supremacists" in your most recent column.

I wholeheartedly agree with The Post's decision to capitalize both Black and White when used to refer to people. I believe I have also capitalized "White supremacy" and "White supremacists" but I think the copy editors see a nuanced difference. I never argue with copy editors. I love copy editors, because they have saved me from embarrassment many, many times.

What would you and fellow columnist Hugh Hewitt talk about if you got together for coffee?

He's an Ohio State fan and I went to Michigan, so usually we talk about football. This year, since there is no Big Ten football, maybe we'd talk about our families or something. We wouldn't argue politics. We do that in print.

How can Black supporters of Pres. Trump (e.g. Candice Owens and others) really believe that he has done more for Black folks than any other president except for Lincoln? Asking for a friend.

Tell your friend that I have no idea. 

What are the Dems plan for the $350 million plus they raked in in August? How do we break the stranglehold of the 2 party system in US politics?

The biggest share of that money will probably go to television advertising. And I think the two-party system will be with us for the foreseeable future. If, hypothetically, the Republican Party gets decimated in November, it will adapt and change and rise again. Our two parties are resilient institutions.

Gene......love your commentaries on Morning Joe and notice that you and Joe seem to have a real rapport. Fun to see the back and forth. Questions are: What is your gut (not the polls) telling you about this presidential election? Does the national Dem Party have its organizational chops in order or not??? Is the Biden campaign adequately nimble to navigate the next 2 months as Trump throws his Molotov firebombs daily? I am still in deep mourning about 2016 and fighting absolute despair about our future as a democracy. And, as a deep student of history. I sense the dissolution of values and the end of empire.

I can't allay all your fears, but so far it seems to me that the Biden campaign is doing the right things. They've raised a ton of money, they seem to be paying attention to the right states and the right constituencies, and Biden is quite good at batting away Trump's little grenades (many of which, frankly, have been duds).


Is the Trump campaign really running out of money? If true it's both pathetic and hilarious. I don't think he's even close to being as rich as he claims to be, but with his "I'm so rich" persona, I've never understood how anyone could ever send him money ever, for anything. The desperate "My dad wants to see your name at the top of the Trump 100 club" fundraising messages from the two large adult sons are so amateur I first thought they were parodies. Maybe they're not particularly effective. How much does it affect the race if the Trump side is really struggling for money?

The fact that Trump and the GOP have blown most of their billon-dollar warchest and now fear a potential cash crunch is important, but probably not decisive. It will matter if Biden has more money for tv ads and get-out-the-vote efforts down the stretch than Trump does. One thing that I'm confident will not happen: I saw a tweet from NYT reporter Maggie Haberman suggesting that Trump might spend $100 million of "his own" money on the campaign. Remember how he was supposed to self-fund his campaign in 2016? He'll write that check when pigs fly.

That's all for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks, as always, for participating, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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