Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: Vote, already

Oct 20, 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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Hi, everybody, and welcome to our weekly chat. Two weeks to go. Joe Biden still has a (let's be honest) massive lead in the national polls. But are the battleground states tightening? Will the "Republican DNA" in states like Ohio and Florida somehow bleed through in these final days? Is it all somehow a mirage? I doubt it, to tell the truth, but nobody can be certain. I wish it were possible to go through the next fourteen days (or longer, depending on the speed of the count) being absolutely sure of the outcome, but it's not. All any of us can do is play our individual role -- and help and encourage others to do the same. So vote, already. Do what you can to ensure that like-minded neighbors, friends and family vote as well. And know that while we will have to cross a Grand Canyon of crazy these next few weeks, we will make it to the other side. 

One heads-up: Our chat next Tuesday will look a little different -- we're switching to a new software platform -- but the time, place and content will be the same. With that, let's get started!

Odds on he 3rd debate actually happening?

I was really skeptical until yesterday, when President Trump's campaign agreed to the new procedure of cutting the participants' microphones when the other is talking. Someone in Trump's orbit must be arguing that since the first debate was an utter disaster for him, it would be foolish to repeat the experience. But he really needs to change the trajectory of this race, and it really is now or never. And as for Biden, he must see a favorable risk-reward ratio, given how the last encounter worked out for him. So yes, I do think we'll have a debate on Thursday.

So, if there is nothing to hide why is Trump so afraid to release tax information? Secondly, How could a court system in Texas limit Counties, some the size of small states, to one polling drop off while states in Colorado May have dozens of places in a single county to drop off votes? Corruption or limited voting for those with access?

That's two questions. On the first, obviously Trump has something -- probably plenty -- to hide. On the second, it's just unadulterated voter suppression. Given the size of the early vote in Texas thus far, however, it doesn't seem to be working very well.

Hi Eugene, Is there any independent verification that the President had Covid 19? It all looked so staged - the "team" of doctors (didn't they have anything to do?), the over-the-top remedies, the bizarre car ride outside the hospital... Banner in the SF Chronicle: "Trump says he has Virus". There's been no info about viral load, labs & etc. Much room is left for skepticism. That kool-aid won't scour. -Mike

Oh, I think he had it. The way he was gasping for air when he stood on the balcony after returning from the hospital would have been hard to fake. And even if you think his doctors are all lying, that wouldn't explain all the others who attended the Barrett ceremony or the debate prep sessions and came down with covid-19, including Hope Hicks and Chris Christie. The White House was a covid hot zone, and for all we know, Trump may have been Patient Zero.

Eugene: Thanks for the good words down through the years. Of all of Trump's enablers, I just don't get William Barr. Yes, he's an archconservative with a highly controversial (politely speaking...) view of executive powers, but he was, by all accounts, a well-regarded attorney and respected official in real Republican administrations. What happened ? An expansive view of executive prerogatives is one thing --- however chilling or perverse it may be --- but to debase himself by actively and openly lying and seeking to pervert the course of justice on Trump's behalf is a real head-scratcher for me. How can he possibly be in thrall to this President-in-name-only ? Got any thoughts ?

I have no idea. I don't know William Barr personally. Friends who do know him are at a loss. This isn't the Bill Barr they thought they knew.

Trump appears to have given up on winning a legitimate election. I assume he's hoping to steal the election in the courts. Is that how you see it? If so, what are his chances of succeeding?

Call me Pollyanna, but I really don't think that's going to work. Maybe if it comes down to a handful of votes in one state -- like Florida in 2000 -- he could pull it off. But if you're dealing with multiple states and meaningful margins, state election officials are going to certify the results and that will be that. Trump may wail and scream all the way, but he'll be on his way out.

Thank you for these chats. It is a great opportunity to feel in touch with someone in your position and with your knowledge. The upcoming debate worries me a lot. It seems like Trump has nothing to lose, but Biden has everything to lose. If something terrible happens to Trump it won't change much, but if Biden misspeaks or screws up somehow it could be a repat of our PTSD moment from 2016. What could go wrong, and is there time to fix it?

Biden has run a very smart campaign, and he was very solid in the first debate. He does have more to lose, because he's ahead, but he does know how to do politics.

I'm in southwest Missouri, where I saw a Biden ad on network TV last evening. I can't remember the last time I saw an ad for a Democratic presidential candidate here, so that was very exciting---and heartening. Question: What might happen between November and January, should Biden win? Can you reassure me that all will be well?

How encouraging that you saw a Biden ad! I guess that's the luxury of having such a lead in the money race. As for the lame-duck period, let's take things one at a time. The first imperative is to make sure there IS a lame-duck period and a transition. Then we can worry about somehow keeping a wounded and rejected Trump in check.

The administration seems to have (and had) a strategy to let the virus rum rampant in states and populations that are not the “base” and to reassure the gullible that it is a hoax while selectively steering resources to the favored few. What say you?

If that was the strategy, it's not being carried out very well. Right now the virus is having its worst impact in places like North Dakota, South Dakota and rural Wisconsin -- Trump country.

How is Trump’s encouragement to Americans to not wear masks, ignore social distancing in order to support his out-of-control ego at his rallies, and denigrating of experts like Dr. Fauci, any different than the Head Lemming leading his/her brethren off a cliff to their demise?

That's an entirely reasonable metaphor.

Gene, why is this stupid conspiracy group allowed to thrive? I would think that our CIA would heave technical sleuths who could track down the original -Q- and flush him/them out? Why does it appear that no effort is being taken to squash this ridiculous and dangerous sect? What are your thoughts?

There's the not-so-small matter of the First Amendment. People have a right to think and say what they like, even if it's bat-guano crazy. Crossing the line into terroristic threats or actions is another matter, however, and when that happens, the FBI (not the CIA) has a responsibility to act.

We have a long tradition of a peaceful transfer of power and one president at a time. Hopefully, that continues. Certainly, every administration in our history had a few shady characters worthy of criminal charges or jail, but we as a society often judged that an election loss was punishment enough and moved on with life. However, given that there seemingly are SO many shady characters in this current administration worthy of a federal jumpsuit (including perhaps, the President himself), should they win, how will the Biden administration handle it all? Another special council? Bi-partisan commission a la the 9/11 commission?

I guess my preference would just be to let an apolitical Justice Department do its job. I'm guessing that would be Biden's preference as well.

In your last column, you said that Trump is actively trying to make the pandemic worse. The question is why? My take is that it is not incompetence or laziness, but that he views it, like Russian election interference, as another tool to weaken us and cause more chaos to ease the path for his autocratic takeover. What is your view?

He's not that strategic. It's his incompetence, his laziness, his impatience and his narcissism. And those qualities have been fatal to tens of thousands of Americans who didn't have to die.

The way Trump has treated Dr Fauci seems incredibly stupid to me. I can only think he perceived Fauci as a rival to be undermined instead of a recognized expert in his field who could have saved many lives. Trump was willing to allow casualties rather than share media coverage. I hope I can make it through the next two weeks without a breakdown. I will not watch the debate; it will likely be another brawl, but it will be interesting to see how Trump handles the muted mic.

I think Trump is attacking Fauci because Fauci went on "60 Minutes" and talked about how the Amy Coney Barrett announcement at the White House was a super-spreader event. If Trump feels he is being attacked, he strikes back.

Gene, thanks as always for taking questions and for your calm and clear-eyed view of the world. Over the years of chatting you've been kind enough to respond to questions I've posed wondering why the Democrats don't make more of the Supreme Court and the pivotal role it plays in our rights and daily lives. With the Republicans scorched earth policy led by McConnell (refusing to consider Democratic nominees, then rushing through Republican nominees at break neck speed) along with the loss of Justice Ginsburg, do you think the message that the Court has the potential to influence public policy for decades so we'd best pay attention is finally getting through? Alas, with Judge Barrett's confirmation all but assured, it seems it's coming too late, but do you have a sense that Democratic voters might finally have that more in mind than in previous elections (say, 2016)?

If so, this realization is coming way too late. Trump and Mitch McConnell have reshaped, and deformed, not just the Supreme Court but also the rest of the federal judiciary. The focus of progressives now is going to have to be on passing legislation to protect the rights that these courts will strip away.

Hi Eugene. I had the pleasure of voting by mail 3 weeks ago and it felt GREAT. However, since that starting wearing off, I find myself worrying more and more as the polls tighten and as Republican registrations in key battleground states have outpaced Democratic registrations. I fear this will only get worse in the next 2 weeks until Election Day. Any suggestions on how to dial down the worry, short of ignoring the news both in print and on MSNBC?

Take a deep breath. Take a walk. Limit your screen time. And if you're able, volunteer to do phone-banking or otherwise help in the get-out-the-vote effort. All you can do is what's in your power to do.

The Trump campaign seems to be laying out all the reasons to NOT do the debate on Thursday (i.e., alleged "change" from foreign affairs focus, bias toward Biden, not liking having the mics muted at times). The only reason I could see for Trump to participate is his misplaced self-confidence in his ability to persuade everyone of his greatness. The campaign staff must recognize how badly he hurt himself in the debate and the town hall he's recently done. Who do you think will prevail? Will he debate, or back out?

Trump is behind, and the debate is his last chance to reach a truly nationwide audience and try to change the trajectory of the election. I think he'll debate. But I don't think he'll stick to whatever plan his campaign has laid out for him. I expect more bombast, a few tantrums, attacks on the moderator, etc.

People talk about 2016 PTSD, but I have a bit of it with the midterms. I know Democrats toke the majority in the House and picked up seats in Arizona and Nevada, but I was just bummed that night because of the loses of Beto O'Rourke, Stacy Abrams and Andrew Gillum. Now there is the shot again in Texas or the focus on Jaime Harrison in South Carolina knocking off Lindsey Graham and I feel like despite other victories, I'll just be focusing in the loses.

The 2018 was no occasion for PTSD, from the Democratic perspective. It was a sweeping victory, period. And yes, there were near-misses in a few traditionally Republican states. If Graham and Cornyn do get beaten, think of that as pure gravy.

should we be watching most closely on election week to see if the Dems can flip the Senate?

You'll have to watch all of them, I'm afraid. It will be a long night. Or a long few nights...

Having canvassed for Obama twice here in Florida and being sent then to apparently Democratic white households where I often received a very unpleasant reception ,(in 2012 particularly), do you think this advantage in Republican registrations in Florida may just be many of those type of voters (who already voted for Trump in 2016) but just changed their party affiliation in the last 4 years (so not new Republican voters)?

That's one theory. I don't think anybody knows for sure.

I get that "this" year is different. But I really dislike the idea of early voting. I think everyone should have the same set of facts available when they make their decision. People who already voted when RBG passed maybe would want to change their vote, etc. I believe there needs to be greater access, but can't that be achieved via 48 hour vote periods, or weekend voting?

We've had early voting, absentee voting and mail-in voting for years. We'll just have more of it this time around. Decades of experience suggests it all works just fine.

Thanks for all your excellent commentary over the years in print and live. With the mockery that the republicans have made of the judicial appointment process for many years, what hope do our children and grandchildren have of overcoming the problems that this will create for generations?

Legislation. In many cases, but not all, laws can be written to negate or circumvent court rulings. 

Eugene, is there any data that indicates whether early voting (in-person or by mail) is accretive to the 2016 election totals or rather cannibalizing it?

Nt that I know of. We won't really know until we see what the turnout is on Election Day.

Dear Gene, I live in Seattle and do not know anyone who openly supports Trump. This is good for the quality of my daily life, but it leaves me at a disadvantage in gauging his support. Do you think legions of his supporters will streams to the polls on November 3 and wipe out Democrats' early gains?

I think it's risky to count on massive Election Day turnout during a pandemic, as Trump is doing. I think it's safer to have as many votes as possible already in the bank, as Biden is doing. But that's just me.

 

That's it for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks for dropping by, as always, and I'll see you again -- in our new, improved chat format -- 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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