“Can we get back to politics?”

2020: It’s an election year like no other. In this episode of EJB Talks, we get back to national politics. Bloustein School Director of Engagement and Special Project Amy Cobb MPAP ’18 returns to ask Professor Stuart Shapiro some pressing questions concerning the presidential and congressional races. Where does the race stand? How will the conventions, and VP Biden’s selection of a running mate, affect the race? Stuart and Amy discuss these questions, and more, about the craziest election year in a generation.

Stuart Shapiro
Welcome to another episode of EJB Talks. I’m Stuart Shapiro, the Associate Dean of Faculty at the Bloustein School. And the purpose of this podcast is to talk with my colleagues and our alumni about issues affecting people in New Jersey, the United States and the world.

To quote the musical Hamilton, “Can we get back to politics?” Over the next month, we will have Vice President Biden’s selection of a running mate, and two political conventions conducted in a manner unlike ever before. Today, I’m going to talk about the month and politics ahead, and I’ll resume the role of pundit/guest. And Amy Cobb will step from behind the glass to take on my role as host. Amy, take it away.

Amy Cobb
All right, Stu. Let’s get this going. So, my first question. You know, Trump has been having quite a couple of weeks of bad news. COVID in many states is at its worst levels, there have been questions concerning his competency and mental state, and the economy has lost at least 52 million jobs since March. So with just those factors–and boy, are there many more–you have talked about some of the ways in which Trump could come back. What are those possibilities?

Stuart Shapiro
So three months is not a huge amount of time. We are now in the area where I would say we’re getting close to the election. The polls are starting to mean something that they didn’t mean a few months ago. But three months is not nothing, either. And three months in Trump’s America is three years in normal time. And so, there are still lots of things that can happen between now and November that could affect the election …

Amy Cobb
(Laughing).. Oh, boy Stuart that’s great…

Stuart Shapiro
The first thing to remember though, is of course Trump is losing, right? You know, no matter what he says, no matter when people talk about fake polls, no matter when people talk about the unreliability of polls, all of that does not obscure the fact that he’s losing and he’s losing significantly to Vice President Biden right now. So, to address your question of what could change that. Obviously the easiest way would be for him to act differently. But that’s not gonna happen. (laughing) I mean, he could act presidential! You know, there’s a concept! But we know he is who he is, he believes he got where he got by being himself, so he’s not going to change.

There are, certainly, events that could happen that could help him. People have speculated–and it’s not unwarranted–that October could bring news of a vaccine that has been approved by FDA. Certainly, that would help the president. It probably won’t be distributed before the election, that would be almost impossible. But, that would be a help as well. Congress, while they’ve stumbled more than I thought they would this week in moving towards a stimulus–and I should say, I mean, the Republicans in the Senate have stumbled–eventually they will pass a stimulus. And that will help the president when it happens.

You could have unlikely events. You could have a terrorist attack, you could have a health scare for Vice President Biden, anything like that could help Trump as well. And of course, the next three months you’re going to see an onslaught of anti-Biden ads unlike, you know, anything we’ve probably ever seen before. Although we’ve seen quite a bit. (Laughing) That is going to have some potential effect on the electorate.

But it’s also important to remember that events could occur that could hurt Trump as well. The GDP report that came out this morning–we’re recording this on Thursday, it will be up early next week–the GDP report that came out this morning was abysmal. A huge drop in GDP. That hurts the president. That will hurt the market, that will hurt the president. Every week we pass without a stimulus being passed is going to put more people in danger of losing their homes, losing their livelihoods, etc. And so, that will hurt the president. And, as you know I’ve written about, there’s Trump’s mental decline. (laughing) And the number of things that he could say that are… just again, just this morning, he talked about delaying the election, which won’t actually happen, but who knows what the effect on the electorate would be. So all of those things could move the needle. Some of them would move the needle toward Trump, some of them would move the needle toward Biden. The key fact is, in this day and age, three months is still a lot of time for things to happen.

Amy Cobb
It seems like three days is a lot of time for things to happen Stuart!

Stuart Shapiro
And I am worried what could happen in the three days between us talking and you guys putting this up! So who knows? It may be all out of date by then. (Laughing)

Amy Cobb
True, true. So you know, considering we’re on a roll for things that seem a little bit, oh I don’t know, troubling? So there’s this law and order crackdown. So, you’ve got Portland and other democratically-led cities that DHS is currently, for better words, working within. Can you speak about the ramifications of what they’re actually doing? And what this may possibly mean for November, pre- and post-election? And, Trump actually publicly alluded to something regarding the election and the election results. It’s a fun question, Stuart. There’s a lot of questions in there.

Stuart Shapiro
So, I suspect that what is going on in Portland, what went on in Portland–they actually announced that DHS will be leaving yesterday–and what’s going on in other cities, will have very little effect on how people vote.

Amy Cobb
Okay.

Stuart Shapiro
I think Trump is hoping that it will, but with a pandemic that has killed so many people and infected so many people, and with an economy that is obviously continuing to crater, I don’t think the antics of DHS in the cities is going to affect how people vote. They’re focused on the economy, they’re focused on the pandemic and if there’s a third issue they are focused on, it’s Trump’s behavior. And so, I don’t see them reacting very much to that, to the DHS moves. What’s more worrisome and what’s scarier is what it portends for Trump’s behavior post-election. I do think there’s a very good chance he’s going to claim he did not lose, you know, even if it’s clear that he did. If it’s abundantly clear, if he gets routed by 20 points instead of the 10 he’s at right now, then maybe he’ll put his tail between his legs. Although that’s definitely unlike him. (laughing) But I do think that anything, any results, that show Biden winning are going to be contested. And then, think about sort of the parallel headlines of Trump fighting election results and announcing DHS troops going to more cities. That is kind of the stuff when one reads about it in another country, one thinks you know, should we get a UN resolution? Should we intervene militarily? Those kinds of questions come up. And so, that confluence of image is something I think that is possible, and something that we could see in parallel in November or December. So, it scares me much more for what happens after the election than what happens in affecting how people vote.

Amy Cobb
Well, that’s sunny. Okay, so I’d like to move to the other candidate for a bit because we tend to focus such an incredible amount on Trump and what he is or is not doing. So let’s talk about Biden. Biden unveiled his policy agenda. I don’t know if anybody else noticed, but I did a few weeks ago. And what I hadn’t realized, maybe because I’m buried too deeply in what’s going on with Trump, is that there was a joint Biden-Sanders Task Force putting together the policy agenda for Biden. And the policy agenda certainly reflects Biden’s moderate approach. But there are definitely some more progressive notes that are reflected–climate change, criminal justice. There’s a piece on the economy, which particularly gives quite a wink to Warren’s economic patriotism that she campaigned on–education and health care. So do you think this may sway those younger voters who were not thrilled when Biden became the obvious candidate? And do you think it matters most, to the general population, the moderate population? And finally, just you know, just to add on one more thing, do you think Biden should continue most of his focus on Trump’s failures, or do you think he should start trying to court the rest of the democratic and progressive and moderate voters?

Stuart Shapiro
So I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this election is about Trump. Biden doesn’t matter much. And what Biden does, doesn’t matter much. In a sense, that was part of his appeal as a Democratic nominee. I do think no matter who would gotten the nomination, they would be winning right now because of the pandemic, because of the recession. But Biden does have the strength, that he has been very hard for Trump to attack in a way that other nominees would not have been. And Trump has tried a different line of attack every week. You know, Biden’s too old, Biden’s a vessel for the left, (laughing) Biden, you know… he tried to figure out what will stick and nothing really has. Part of the reason nothing has is, because what voters are focused on is the president. They’re always focused on the president in a reelection campaign. It’s always about how people feel about the president. But that’s even more true when you have someone that sucks up all the media air the way that Trump does. In a sense, Trump’s lines of attack on Biden are almost self-defeating because everything is about Trump. And so, I don’t think there’s much Biden can do positively or negatively to sway the results of the election. If it gets very close again, then yeah, everything matters and it becomes very hard to figure out, you know what matters… what direction things will matter in. But even if it’s very close, nothing will matter as much as what Trump does.

Amy Cobb
Right. I mean, considering that I didn’t even realize there was a task force between Sanders and Biden and I follow it, that says a lot. So…

Stuart Shapiro
Yeah absolutely…

Amy Cobb
Alright, so since we’re just on this whole, you know, wonky political train, the conventions. Trump finally caved. He’s no longer hosting his in-person convention in Florida. But really, in reality, do conventions truly matter to most Americans? And in particular, will they really matter this year with COVID, and the economy, and everything else going on?

Stuart Shapiro
It’s going to be, I mean, it’s been a weird year, obviously, in many ways. (laughing)

Amy Cobb
Yes.

Stuart Shapiro
It’s going to be a really strange year for those of us that pay attention to conventions. I suspect that they will have virtually no effect this year.

Amy Cobb
Yes.

Stuart Shapiro
Virtually no… there’s always a convention bounce. Both Hillary and Trump had it in 2016. I don’t think either Biden or Trump will have a bounce. Now, of course, if you’re losing like Trump is, that’s a bad thing. You want that bounce because it gives you a platform on which to reach more people and an opportunity. But I don’t see how a virtual convention, where Trump and/or Biden are speaking, you know, to a Zoom camera, to a virtual audience, how that’s going to move the needle at all. I mean, that’s very different than their speeches being on all three networks, and applause lines, and roaring crowds, and all of that. You know, whether the regular conventions would have had much of an effect, I don’t know. I’m a little skeptical about that. But the way things are going to go down, I don’t see it. Even as a, you know, someone who is the .001 percentile of political junkie (laughing), I can’t see spending much time watching them or paying attention to them this year.

Amy Cobb
Right. And I think one of the other reasons I would have paid attention more to the convention is, and for me is, seeing who Biden is going to be announcing for his VP. But, what I’ve heard is, he’s going to be announcing this early. And considering — since we’re going to talk a little bit more about Biden and then move, switch our gears again — we kind of talked about a little bit before privately but, who would be your best guess who Biden may be announcing next week, and why?

Stuart Shapiro
Yeah, of course, by the time people listen to this, it’ll be this week.

Amy Cobb
(laughing) True.

Stuart Shapiro
Yeah, no, Biden has now said he will likely name someone the week of August 3. And so we do expect to see a name. That’s actually not that early, it’s well within the range that people have announced before in terms of when.. relative to when the convention is. We’re now in the window that he would be later than some previous nominees in listing their… in naming their nominee.

In terms of who it is, the betting market favorite, the pundit favorite, is clearly senator Kamala Harris.

Amy Cobb
Right.

Stuart Shapiro
And so I don’t think anyone would be surprised if she was the choice. But that said, I think maybe once in my lifetime, has a — sort of my politically cognizant lifetime at least — has a candidate named the person everyone expected. John Kerry named John Edwards in 2004…

Amy Cobb
Right.

Stuart Shapiro
Who was second to him in the primaries, almost everyone realized that Edwards would be the selection. And indeed he was. There are almost no other times that I can remember. You know, Reagan picking Bush was probably the previous one before that.

Amy Cobb
Right.

Stuart Shapiro
In terms of picking someone people expected as vice president. So it’s not very common that the favorite in the public’s minds is the person selected. Obviously, Biden has said he will pick a female running mate. And I think everybody knows the names that have been batted around. He might pick an African American female like Kamala Harris, like Val Demings, like Keisha Bottoms. Tammy Duckworth’s name has risen in prominence. There are governors like Gretchen Whitmer, and the governor of New Mexico. And so, and of course, Elizabeth Warren’s name is still in there, although I think that’s fairly unlikely at this point. So, any of them… none of them would surprise me. Because Susan Rice’s name was in there as well.

Amy Cobb
I saw that.

Stuart Shapiro
And so, you know, I think Biden, he has been Vice President for eight years. And I think he probably has a very set idea of what he wants in a vice president. And I suspect that there are two characteristics. One is, can this person become president if something happens to me?

Amy Cobb
Right.

Stuart Shapiro
You know, would this person be, I didn’t mention Stacey Abrams, she’s still in the mix as well.

Amy Cobb
Yes.

Stuart Shapiro
And so I think a characteristic like that probably hurts someone like Abrams, who hasn’t served above a state legislature level. So I think someone like that is a little less likely with that level of experience. But who knows, I mean, Biden will make that judgment in his interviews with the candidates.

And then the second factor is, do I get along with them?

Amy Cobb
Right.

Stuart Shapiro
This is going to be somebody that I can share the secrets of state with, that I can call to be my final advisor on important questions. It’s got to be somebody I like, and I trust. And we don’t know who that is for Biden. We don’t know his relationships with these individuals. And so I think that’s a factor that people underestimate. And it’s one that people, therefore, assume away. But it’s critically important. I would also suspect that he’s talking with his former boss, President Obama…

Amy Cobb
Yes.

Stuart Shapiro
…about this question, and he will probably take Obama’s advice very seriously.

Amy Cobb
Well, I think their relationship, for Biden, was eye-opening. Because, you know, you and I both know many instances where presidents and vice presidents haven’t necessarily seen eye to eye. And I think they’re… I think Biden was definitely inspired by that relationship. So, we’ll see. Hopefully, you’re, you know, you’re spot on. Maybe you’ll win this time. (laughing) Maybe… you’ll be right. It’ll be exciting.

Stuart Shapiro
Yeah. I’m, I’m ready to be surprised.

Amy Cobb
Please don’t say that. That’s kind of the theme of 2020, Stu! (laughing)

Stuart Shapiro
Well then, we should expect it right? (laughing)

Amy Cobb
That is true. That is true. So I just wanted to briefly switch gears as we’re kind of winding down here, to talk a little bit more about generalities. Just to kind of get us prepared for, you know, the whys and where we’re going in the next few months. So I just want to talk about, really in general, the Republican Party. So in reading and doing my research and, well, being a voter since the mid-90s, I can definitely see that in the past few decades, the Republican Party has certainly seen a significant shift. There really seemed to be polarizing and moving away from what was once kind of an, I think an inspirational hope, that they would have more younger and multiracial voters interested in the Republican Party. But can you talk about how significantly the Republican Party went from courting those multiracial and younger voters to this post-Tea Party GOP we see today?

Stuart Shapiro
So, I guess I sort of disagree a little bit with the premise of the question in that…

Amy Cobb
Okay…

Stuart Shapiro
…I’m not sure the GOP has really courted young and multiracial voters in my lifetime. I think that what we see is a more extreme version of what has been the case ever since the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act passed. Linden Johnson said that when those bills passed in 1964 and 1965 that, he was giving the South to the Republicans for a generation, and of course he was correct. It took a few years. But certainly, that is the base upon which the Republican builds its national profile, has been those deep south states. This was cemented then by the movement of evangelical voters to the Republicans to make that a working majority. Reagan sort of cemented that deal using abortion first and then obviously gay rights have also been used for that.

And in doing that, they have said, young voters, you don’t vote much, we’re not going to really spend much effort courting you. Minority voters, you know, yeah, we’ll make the occasional entreaty towards you, but we know you’re solid Democrats. The most solid Democrats, particularly African American voters, so we’re not going to do much there. We might wink and nod so that moderate voters don’t think we’re racist, and that’s where Trump obviously differs, and so that they feel okay voting for us. But we’re not actually expecting to get much minority votes there.

Obviously, the big change and this is where I think your question does have some merit, is what occurred in the 2016 primaries, is that, those groups of, sort of, Southern white voters and evangelical voters and of course, the much analyzed working-class white voters, revolted against the establishment GOP in 2016. They did not go for the candidates that the establishment put forward, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio in particular. And they said, you know, enough of this, you’re talking in winks and nods. (laughing) We want someone who’s going to say what we want and say what we think. And that was Donald Trump.

And so, I think that has changed, sort of the explicit nature of who the Republican Party is courting has changed. I do think there’s no going back for the party now.

Amy Cobb
Right.

Stuart Shapiro
And I don’t know, in the, you know, very pleasant event of a large scale republican loss in 2020, I don’t know what happens to the party. And there will be a fascinating battle for its soul. And it may split. There are a lot of different things that could happen. If there’s a close loss then the Trumpers keep the party. There’s no question about it. But I do suspect that even in the wake of a significant loss, it will be hard for moderates or people with true conservative beliefs to claim the Republican Party back.

Amy Cobb
So you just gave me all of my good argument and fodder for the folks that like to tell me that, the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln. Thank you. I appreciate that.

Stuart Shapiro
Follow Kevin Kruse on Twitter, and you know, see how he takes apart that type of argument. The Republican Party hasn’t been the party of Lincoln since the 1960s.

Amy Cobb
All right. So I have one final question. So this election season, believe it or not, I know it’s crazy, isn’t just about the presidential election. Although, yes it’s the most significant right now. But, we’ve talked about in the past the other races, the congressional races. And I’m hoping, maybe you have seen some signs of interest or change in some of the races that maybe you had kind of given up to being Republican before or not changing? Do you have any that are now more hotly contested or have that have surprised you? That makes November a more interesting proposition?

Stuart Shapiro
Well, the Democrats probably have a shot now in taking Senate seats in Montana and Iowa, which is not something we would have predicted two months ago, let’s say. There aren’t a lot of other races, I think that has moved… I mean, there have been races that were leaning Democratic that are now more likely Democratic to use the language of the Cook Report, which puts out ratings on races. But I don’t think too much has changed. The Democrats remain heavy, heavy favorites to retain the House. And the Senate will almost certainly go the way the presidential election goes. And as Biden has become a larger favorite in the presidential race, the chances of the Democrats taking the Senate overall have increased. And in part, that’s the Montana and Iowa additions, possibly other places where Democrats could win, but it’s just more of the overall national tenor. While you know, while as you said there’s a lot more than the presidential race going on, the presidential race is driving a lot.

Amy Cobb
Well, that wasn’t super negative Stu. Thanks. That was kind of positive, as positive as we can be! (laughing)

Stuart Shapiro
You know we try to end these podcasts on a positive note. So…so there you go.

Amy Cobb
I know I, I felt that was as close to positive as 2020 can handle. I thought it was pretty good. Thanks Stu!

Stuart Shapiro
Thank you, Amy. Thanks for stepping into the role of the host there. As always, thanks also to Tamara Swedberg and Karyn Olsen for helping us get these podcasts up on the air. We’ll be back next week and I will be back as host talking to another expert from the Bloustein School. Thanks for listening.