Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: Everything is up in the air

Oct 06, 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.

Read Eugene Robinson's columns or catch up on past Eugene Robinson Live chats.

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Hello, everybody, and welcome to our weekly chat. Well, any news since last we met? This week has been an eventful decade, hasn't it? First we had the most unhinged presidential debate performance -- by President Trump, naturally -- since the inception of presidential debates. Then his poll numbers started crashing. Then his aides started getting covid. Then Trump himself got covid. Then he was rushed by helicopter to Walter Reed. Then he was given three DEFCON-1 maxed-out covid treatments. Then he did a joyride around the block from the hospital and back, sealed inside a Suburban with Secret Service agents (who were in full PPE but probably now have to quarantine). Then he went home to the White House, staged a balcony scene that I called "two-bit Mussolini," gasped for breath, and shot a campaign ad. Then his poll numbers plunged some more. Joe Biden had an NBC town hall last night, but really all he's had to do this week is watch the Bonfire of Trump's Vanity (and keep wearing that mask). Trump seems to be Patient Zero in a big White House cluster of covid cases. But his closing argument for the election seems to be that covid, after all, is no big deal -- at least for a big, strong he-man like him. Can it get any weirder? My prediction, alas, is that it can and will. Let's get started.

Hi Eugene. I've read where the Debate Commission has said that if someone refuses to wear a mask at the next debates, they will have to leave. I can see the Trump family and officials making an issue of this on camera - just like Trump refusing to leave if he loses, they would love to see anyone try to make them leave in front of the viewing audience. How do you suggest they handle this?

Who knows if there will even be any more presidential debates? Trump says he's game, but -- and this is kind of important -- HE HAS COVID. We have no idea how his case of the disease will progress, and neither does he. But meanwhile Biden is getting a huge bump in the polls (a 16-point lead in a new CNN survey out today; 11 points in Pennsylvania according to Monmouth), so the Democratic candidate is in the driver's seat. The candidate who's behind desperately needs more debates; the candidate who's ahead does not. So if the Trump family wishes to disrupt the next debate with unsafe behavior, Biden should let them. Who (except the most fervent Trump cultists) thinks the 77-year-old Biden should spend extended time in a space made unsafe by people who have been in intimate contact with Patient Zero Trump?

Do you think Jaime Harrison will defeat Lindsey Graham?

I think that race is a dead heat at this point, and I never thought I'd be able to say such a thing in my lifetime. If non-cultist Republicans are as turned off by this week's Trump-generated chaos as they seem to be, Harrison definitely can win. I'd like to see some new polling in that state, but it's no better than a toss-up for incumbent Graham, and if there's a Blue Wave, he gets swept out.

Thanks for taking questions! Watching the coverage of Trump's ride back to the White House from Walter Reed made me sick. The narcissist directed the entire scene and the press played their part perfectly. What can we do to make them stop televising the propaganda? Yes, whatever the president does is by definition news. That doesn't mean it needs to be broadcast live since most people don't stick around to hear the commentary or fact checking that comes later. Did they learn nothing from 2016?

I don't see how the cable nets could have avoided carrying the less-than-triumphal return to the White House live. And anybody who saw Trump struggling to catch his breath after climbing those steps could see how reckless and truly insane this whole stunt was. The networks have mostly stopped carrying Trump campaign rallies live, which is a good thing. But I would have gone live last night because it might have been weird, but it was definitely news. 

Hi Eugene. Wanted to know your thoughts on whether a landslide victory is even possible this election, given the Trump base as well as those Republicans willing to look the other way on so many things because they've made their Faustian bargain for tax cuts, the stock market or judges?

I do think a landslide is possible. I won't go out on a limb and predict or guarantee such a thing, but it looks increasingly possible. And if McConnell rams through the Barrett confirmation before Election Day, see-no-evil Republicans will already have gotten what they most desperately want. 

Over the last few weeks I've been mildly annoyed at the number of folks who quote Trump's statement that the virus affects "virtually nobody" as though Trump were speaking about the population as a whole and not just those under 18. You did this today, though your link made the context clear. I take a backseat to no one in my revulsion at Trump's presidency (or in my general admiration for your writing), but doesn't the President say enough that is false, foolish, or mean-spirited that it's unnecessary to quote him out of context and in a misleading fashion?

If you're mildly annoyed by that, you should be really annoyed by the president's tweet this morning comparing covid-19 to the seasonal flu, which he falsely claimed kills up to 100,000 Americans each year. That is a lie. Last year, which was about average, the flu killed 37,000 Americans -- compared with 210,000 who have died from covid in the past ten months. 

Trump has declared that he will sow confusion and likely not accept defeat and that we have to have an answer on November 3. Florida is said to have mastered the mail in ballot process. If Florida and PA are projected to go Biden's way on November 3 along with all of the other blue states on the East Coast, couldn't the election be called on November 3?

I don't think anyone is planning to "call" the election on Nov.3. But you are correct that if Florida (which counts quickly) and Pennsylvania go for Biden, it's over. Language like "all-but-certain Biden victory" would then be used. Everyone would know the eventual outcome; the only question would be how many GOP senators managed to survive.

Hi Eugene. Are you optimistic that we can overcome all the voter suppression tactics being imposed by GOP legislatures in all of the states that are in play this year, especially now that the SCOTUS is upholding them because it's their policy "not to interfere so close to an election"?

I am indeed optimistic. African American voters, in particular, have demonstrated the ability to overcome voter ID and other laws specifically designed to keep them from voting. It shouldn't be necessary to jump through so many hoops and over so many hurdles to vote, but I think Democrats will do so. There's just so much at stake.

1. Do you think there should be an in-person debate with a president with active COVID-19? 2. If the debate is going to happen, what is the first question you want Mr. Trump to answer?

What's your temperature? What's your viral load? When was your last negative covid test?

Political divisions are a strain for us and our friendships. While many reporters and journalists do not divulge their political leanings, you are one of a group of columnists for whom it is obvious. How does this impact your relationships with your peers and colleagues? Are you able to maintain friendships with conservative columnists? Have you lost friendships during this political season, as many of us have?

I've actually formed much closer friendships with some conservative writers and political operatives who recognize the grave peril Trump poses to the republic -- folks like Steve Schmidt and Michael Steele, for example. My colleague Michael Gerson, to cite another example, has always been a remarkably kind and generous human being with whom I can disagree on issues in a civil matter (but with whom I agree on Trump). As for those colleagues who continue to support this unfit, unhinged president, I stick to small talk or just wave hi from a distance.

You have covered in detail about how if Trump loses, he ceases being president 1/20 and would be removed (forcefully if necessary) from the White House. What happens though if he looks like he will lose in mid-November and he starts making comments like he did at the end of the debate, but this time instead of stand-by he actually starts inciting action or violence? Could he be impeached and removed if he is the actual cause of unrest? I know the GOP (other than Trump) has committed to a peaceful transition of power - would they actually step up to ensure this if necessary? Prior to 1/20?

I don't know the answer to your question. I hope we don't get to that point, but anything is possible. I've given up on expecting Republicans to act on their stated principles. If they see sticking with Trump as harmful to their self-interest, however, then all bets are off.

What are the chances the Supreme Court nomination process will be halted due to COVID-19?

Right now, my bet is that Mitch McConnell will push the Barrett confirmation through, hell or high water. The wild card, though, is the growing White House covid cluster. Covid may get a vote on this nomination, or at least on this confirmation process. We'll have to see.

What modifications to the presidential debate rules are the most likely? (The Commission on Presidential Debates still hasn't announced these changes yet.) Could the debates still be held with candidates in separate locations, which would make it MUCH easier to mute the one who isn't supposed to be talking?

If I were Biden, I think I would insist on being physically isolated from Trump and the Trump entourage. Given the state of the polls, Trump has very little leverage in any fight over the debate rules.

Hi Eugene. Is it true that down-ballot races tend to break consistently towards the party with the most momentum at the top? Meaning people like Joni Ernst of IA and even Graham in SC might not be able to hold on and eke out a victory?

Graham is actually polling worse than Trump in South Carolina. But as a general rule, yes, a disaster at the top of the ticket is bad news for down-ballot candidates.

What do you think is the best strategy for Mike Pence tomorrow night? With a potential loss looming, does he try to, even slightly, separate himself from Trump, for the sake of his political future? Or, will he be playing to an audience of one, as he's done all along, gushing about the president's leadership? Slightly off topic, do you think Pence has any regrets about aligning himself so closely to Trump?

I think Pence will try to walk the fine line -- really a razor's edge -- of being loyal to Trump while presenting a non-Trumpish persona. I don't think Pence has regrets. I think he has done all he can since taking office to design a future for himself post-Trump. He may be indelibly tainted, however.

Hi Eugene. I have already voted - straight Democratic up and down the ballot. That said, I watched Biden's town hall in FL last night, and it seems his staff needs to fine-tune his answers before the next town hall. The questions were predictable, but his staff has to drill him over and over to keep his answers in the 2-3 minute range without rambling off topic. Do you have a line into the campaign, assuming Trump is up to the next debate?

The way Biden speaks now is the way he has always spoken. The old saying was that you could get on the train with him in Washington, ask him one question, and he'd finish the answer as he was getting off in Wilmington. For the record, I don't feed advice to any campaign or any political party through any sort of "line." I speak my piece in my column, in this chat and on television -- as a journalist should, as opposed to a political activist or a campaign adviser.

What do you think the chances are Democrats take the Senate?

Right now, I think the chances are excellent. But nothing is guaranteed until the last votes are counted.

Hi Eugene, Do you think there is any chance that McConnell will be defeated? (We should be so lucky!)

There's a chance, but only if the Trump campaign collapses so completely (which it may be in the process of doing) that Republicans across the country stay home in droves. His pushing through the Barrett confirmation will certainly motivate Kentucky Democrats, but it's still an uphill battle to knock him out of office.

What should the Democrats do if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed in spite of a Biden victory?

If they take the White House and both houses of Congress, they will have a couple of options. The first, which I believe Biden would prefer, would be to enshrine in law the court rulings that the Supreme Court has overturned or will overturn -- the Voting Rights Act, Roe v. Wade, marriage equality, universal health care. The second option is to expand the court, but to change the ideological balance that would require adding four new seats, for a total of 13. I'm not sure there will be the votes in the Senate for such a move, but I've given up on trying to predict what's possible and what's not.

How concerned are you about there not being a peaceful transition of power if Vice President Biden defeats the president? Can you envision Trump attending a Biden inauguration?

I can certainly see the transfer of power being peaceful. I have trouble imagining Trump being gracious in any sense, and it's hard for me to picture him at a Biden inauguration. As long as he vacates the White House premises by noon on Jan. 20, we're  good.

Hi Eugene. In a Post Opinion piece by Christian Caryl today, he claims that studies have shown the in-person voting carries no more risk than going to the grocery store if precautions are taken (wear a mask). Given that, do you think those who are not at high risk should vote in person this year to try to overcome the GOP's attempts to disqualify mail-in ballots due to procedural technicalities?

It's not an either-or. Many people are already voting by mail. Others will vote in person on Election Day. I have already voted (early, in-person) and it was a safely distanced, no-stress experience. We need all these different options to accommodate different levels of risk and safety.

Don't you think that Joe Biden should speak more about climate change and more specifically how it affects people of color?

I think climate change should be a major theme, especially since it is such an important issue for so many younger voters. They're the ones who would have to live with the climate dystopia that Trump is determined to create.

As follow-up to a previous question, what do you think is Kamala Harris’ best debate strategy.

Prosecute the case against Trump and Trumpism. And keep her distance, since Pence has been in contact with Trump and others in the White House covid cluster.

Eugene, what can you say to non U.S. citizens who are watching what is unfolding in the U.S. in total shock. Can Joe Biden fix what Trump has broken especially in the Supreme Court?

I'd say: "Four years ago, our nation made a catastrophic mistake. Our bad. Most of us want to fix it, and we're trying our best."

 

That's it 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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