And now, 226 days since the bungled Iowa caucuses, America’s 2020 primary season is finally over.
It ended in Delaware, where Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat, easily fended off a progressive challenger, Jessica Scarane. If there was a universal lesson from this year’s intraparty battles — especially for Democrats — it is that for all the restive energy on the party’s left, it is the party’s moderates who in most districts continue to cobble together winning coalitions.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. won the party’s presidential nomination, as the limits of Senator Bernie Sanders’s coalition became clear.
Progressives at first punted on all of the Senate contests and jumped in to help Charles Booker in Kentucky only after he gained traction following the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Mr. Booker lost after being hugely outspent by Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who faces long odds against Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader.
Of the three Democratic House incumbents who lost renomination, two — Representatives Eliot L. Engel of New York and William Lacy Clay Jr. of Missouri — showed the path for the left: Find a progressive candidate of color in a big city. The other Democrat to be retired was Representative Dan Lipinski of Illinois, whose anti-abortion views have long been out of step with his party.
Still, Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman, the progressive upstarts from St. Louis and the Bronx who ousted Mr. Clay and Mr. Engel, have laid the groundwork for a potentially larger class of 2022 progressive challengers.
It is also worth noting that the party’s high-profile progressive incumbents, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, easily fended off primary challenges from their right. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts also beat back Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III.
But dozens of veteran House Democrats come from safe districts and are ripe for a challenge from their left — Representative Jim Cooper of Tennessee, whose district includes Nashville, had a surprisingly close race against an underfunded progressive challenger. Besides Mr. Clay, there are many veteran Black members of Congress who haven’t faced a tough primary challenge.
Most of the Republican congressmen who lost primaries didn’t reflect any sort of ideological reckoning in the party. Iowans tired of Steve King’s dabbling in white supremacy. Ross Spano of Florida and Steve Watkins of Kansas were both freshmen with legal problems. Denver Riggleman of Virginia lost a convention vote of 2,400 delegates after officiating a gay wedding. Only Scott Tipton of Colorado lost a primary for being insufficiently conservative — he was felled by a QAnon sympathizer, Lauren Boebert.
What will the next round of primaries bring? It will depend a lot on who is president.
If Mr. Biden wins, the left will be energized and the existential threat of the Trump presidency for Democrats will be gone. The Republican contests are anyone’s guess.
Few Republicans cross President Trump now — he could be more vindictive after winning re-election. Yet if he’s out of office, there is certain to be a party-wide brawl about who inherits his political coalition.
A somewhat awkward moment on the campaign trail Tuesday — when Joseph R. Biden Jr. played a few bars of “Despacito” from his phone after being introduced by its singer, Luis Fonsi — took a turn early Wednesday morning when President Trump shared a manipulated video of the moment with N.W.A.’s anti-police anthem “____ tha Police” dubbed in.
The doctored video, which Mr. Trump shared twice, was in line with his frequent attempts to suggest that Mr. Biden opposes law enforcement, including his false claim that Mr. Biden wants to defund the police — a position the former vice-president has repeatedly emphasized that he opposes.
As a senator, in fact, Mr. Biden was the architect of much of the hard-line criminal justice legislation of the 1980s and 1990s, a fact that some progressive groups have criticized.
“What is this all about,” Mr. Trump wrote in a message that accompanied the video. Twitter later added a “Manipulated media” warning to it.
The doctored video was created by the pro-Trump meme-makers behind the account “The United Spot.” They describe their content as “100% parody/satire,” but their YouTube page offers a wide range of disinformation narratives targeting Democratic politicians, the United States Postal Service and Anthony Fauci, while also amplifying toxic conspiracies like Pizzagate.
The United Spot has built up a social media following across Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and is listed as a content creator on MemeWorld, a loose right-wing media collective with a direct line to the White House. The president has retweeted manipulated content in the past from MemeWorld contributors, including the site’s owner Logan Cook, who goes by the name Carpe Donktum online. Mr. Cook’s Twitter account was suspended in June for repeated copyright violations.
Mr. Biden was appearing at a Hispanic Heritage Month event in Kissimmee, Fla., where he had traveled in a bid to shore up support among Latino voters in the increasingly Democratic central part of the state and to unveil his plan to support Puerto Rico.
After being introduced by Luis Fonsi, Joe Biden pulled out his phone and started playing Despacito ahead of his remarks kicking off Hispanic Heritage Month in Kissimmee, FL. pic.twitter.com/7R6hUZgLW1
— Sarah Mucha (@sarahmucha) September 16, 2020
The event’s participants included the actor Eva Longoria and the singer Ricky Martin, as well as Mr. Fonsi, who urged people to vote.
Another manipulated video that Trump shared on Wednesday paired footage of Mr. Biden’s speech on climate change and the wildfires with animation that appeared to blame the loose collective of anti-fascist activists known as antifa for starting the fires. There is no evidence linking antifa to the fires.
Mr. Trump’s amplification of the doctored videos followed another retweet that appeared to mark a new low in the campaign. On Tuesday, the president shared a GIF of Mr. Biden touching a woman’s shoulder at an event with the hashtag #PedoBiden, promoting a baseless smear against Mr. Biden and embracing a fringe theory promoted by QAnon, the far-right conspiracy movement.
President Trump is so protean, so news-cycle-driven, that any one performance is almost never a reliable indicator of what is to come. But the sprawling, 90-minute ambiguity that was his Tuesday night town hall with uncommitted Pennsylvania voters contained seeds of his homestretch strategy, and ample warnings of the challenges facing him.
Here are three things we learned about how Mr. Trump is approaching the final weeks of the race:
Everything was perfect. Then the pandemic ruined it.
It’s hard for even as unconventional a president as Mr. Trump to escape the are-you-better-off-now-than-you-were-four-years-ago question. The vast majority of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, so he has tried to divert blame to Democrats, going so far Tuesday night as to chide his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., who holds no office, for not enacting a mask mandate.
The president also tried a different deflector-shield approach: He suggested that he was well on his way to solving the most vexing and intractable problems that have faced Americans for decades — racial strife, income inequality, environmental threats — and then…
“Before the plague, we were doing very well,” he said in response to a question about income inequality. That is not remotely true, according to many economists.
He is publicly workshopping answers on the virus.
Mr. Trump confused “herd mentality” and “herd immunity,” answered a question about his own lax mask-wearing with a story about how a nose-exposed waiter touched his plate, boasted that a vaccine would be ready in weeks (contradicting his own health officials), and baselessly claimed that he had saved more than two million lives by shuttering the nation’s borders.
By simultaneously denying and emphatically confirming that he downplayed the severity of the virus, the developer-president has built himself a box: If he starts wearing a mask he will have to buck the culture-war movement he stoked. If he keeps it off, he risks losing voters, especially women, who believe in science.
He may have to adjust to two-way conversation after years of self-protection.
For Mr. Trump, critics have been confined to the pages of newspapers, basic cable and the fluttering four-letter words he sees on signs through the tinted glass of his limo. The question now is whether the ABC event was a one-off or if he will repeat it — and try to appeal to a broader range voters — as some campaign advisers are urging him to do.
Outside the pillow-fort protection of Fox News and rallies, pent-up people (not all of them diehard Trump haters) have a lot to say to him after years of what has felt to many Americans like a one-sided conversation.
At times, it seemed like he was doing his version of a Biden impersonation, listening patiently as audience members posed sharp questions or, in one case, as a woman broke down in tears. But it did not appear to come easily.
Ellesia Blaque, an assistant professor from Philadelphia who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election but remains undecided this year, asked Mr. Trump, “Should pre-existing conditions, which Obamacare brought to fruition, be removed without —”
“No,” Mr. Trump said.
“Please stop and let me finish my question, sir,” she responded.
President Trump on Tuesday night falsely claimed that “we were short on ventilators because the cupboards were bare when we took it over.” The Strategic National Stockpile, the government’s repository of medicines and medicinal products, contained more than $7 billion worth of supplies when Mr. Trump took office, including more than 16,000 ventilators.
Speaking at an ABC News town hall event in Philadelphia, he repeated his characterization of restrictions placed on travel from China and Europe as “bans” that saved “thousands of lives.” The restrictions only applied to foreign citizens and included exceptions, ultimately allowing 40,000 people to travel from China to the United States from the end of January to April. Similar restrictions were placed on travel from Europe, after the virus was already widespread in New York City.
The president also misleadingly claimed that “I was so far ahead with my closing,” which he said occurred in January. In fact, states began in March to issue stay-at-home and social-distancing orders, and Mr. Trump resisted those efforts. One model showed that 36,000 fewer people would have died had those measures been in place one week earlier. Even after the federal government recommended social distancing on March 16, Mr. Trump continued to urge reopening.
He wrongly claimed that “crime is up 100 percent, 150 percent” in New York. Over all, crime has actually decreased 2 percent in New York compared with the same period last year, though murders have increased. And he misleadingly said that “the top 10 most unsafe cities are run by Democrats.” There is no evidence that crime is correlated with partisanship. Crime is generally higher in major metropolitan areas than rural areas, and more than three-quarters of major cities have Democratic mayors.
He claimed undue credit for calling in the National Guard to Minneapolis. It was the governor of Minnesota, not him, who activated the state’s National Guard.
The president falsely claimed “we’re not going to hurt pre-existing conditions” while Democrats “will get rid of pre-existing conditions.” His administration has asked the Supreme Court to strike down the health care law that includes protections for patients with pre-existing conditions, and in 2017 unsuccessfully tried to repeal it. Democrats and their nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr., have consistently aimed to uphold that law.
Finally, he claimed that the coronavirus “goes away” even without a vaccine because “you’ll develop like a herd mentality.” Mr. Trump was most likely referring to “herd immunity,” which occurs when the virus can no longer spread widely. Public health officials have warned that this could require 70 percent of the population to develop antibodies. Without a vaccine, this could mean an enormous death toll.
For years, Republicans had familiar bogeymen they could reliably link to Democratic opponents in advertisements — Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Now the most prominent doomsday figures in G.O.P. ads aimed at riling up the conservative base tend to be high-profile House Democrats from “the Squad,” the quartet of progressive women of color who were first elected in 2018 and are all on track to retain their seats this year.
The Republican David Young, a former Iowa congressman who lost his seat in 2018, takes things a step further in a TV ad he began airing on Wednesday in Des Moines. The ad aims to tie Representative Cindy Axne, the Democrat who ousted him, to, of all people, Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland — who is not a Squad member but is among the more progressive House Democrats.
Mr. Young’s ad says Ms. Axne “skips work and lets this far-left, East Coast congressman vote in her place.” It says Mr. Raskin is “pals with Pelosi, wants to raise taxes and even spoke at a defund the police rally.” It also shows Mr. Raskin in two photos with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and at his swearing-in with Ms. Pelosi.
It is a double bank-shot ad, trying to tether Ms. Axne to Ms. Pelosi and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez through Mr. Raskin, a relatively low-profile figure who lives 1,000 miles from Des Moines. The argument is that because Ms. Axne supported allowing remote voting by proxy during the coronavirus pandemic, she is “outsourcing” Iowa’s representation to someone who doesn’t understand the state’s values, rather than showing up for work.
House Democrats voted back in May to allow remote voting in an attempt to keep members and their staff safe. Ms. Axne has voted by proxy three times via Mr. Raskin, whose home in Takoma Park, Md., is seven miles from the Capitol.
Ms. Axne’s voting record shows no sign that Mr. Raskin has co-opted her vote. Since the pandemic began, they’ve been on opposite sides of 11 votes, most of them amendments offered by progressive members like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez or Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, according to the congressional vote tracker maintained by ProPublica.
Where It’s Running
So far the ad has aired during local news on the three major broadcast networks in Des Moines.
Tying one’s opponent to a disliked figure in their party is a tactic as old as the republic. But it usually helps if voters have a passing familiarity with the person in question. Mr. Raskin is hardly a household name in Washington, let alone to Iowa voters. It might have been more efficient to just tie Ms. Axne to Ms. Pelosi and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez directly.
But that too may not have worked. In 2018 Republican incumbents flooded the airwaves with ads warning electing Democrats would return Ms. Pelosi to power. Democrats picked up 40 seats and made Ms. Pelosi the speaker again.
Delaware Democrats on Tuesday nominated Sarah McBride, a transgender rights activist, for a State Senate seat, advancing her bid to become the nation’s highest-ranking openly transgender elected official.
Ms. McBride, 30, defeated a token primary challenger and is widely expected to win the November general election — the Wilmington-based seat is safely Democratic and is being vacated by Harris B. McDowell III, who is retiring after representing the district for 44 years.
Ms. McBride said in an interview that she wanted her victory to inspire others. “My hope is that this result can help reinforce for a young kid trying to find their place in this world, here in Delaware or anywhere else in this country, that this democracy is big enough for them, too,” she said.
“Right now in America, we are seeing voices that for so long were pushed to the margins and to the shadows finally being heard,” she added.
Ms. McBride is no newcomer to national or local politics. In 2012 she became the first openly transgender person to work at the White House when she was an intern during President Barack Obama’s administration. She later lobbied the Delaware state legislature on behalf of a transgender rights bill, which was signed into law in 2013, and is now a national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest L.G.B.T.Q. civil rights group.
In 2016 she became the first transgender person to speak at a major party’s national convention when she took the stage before Democrats in Philadelphia.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. — a towering figure in Delaware politics, and now the Democratic presidential nominee — wrote the foreword to Ms. McBride’s 2018 book about her fight for transgender equality.
“Sarah is the epitome of what can make an elected official great,” said Alphonso B. David, the Human Rights Campaign’s president. “Tonight, she takes the first step on what I expect to be a storied career in the public realm.”
Here are the daily schedules of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for Wednesday, September 16. All times are Eastern time.
12:30 p.m.: Participates in a High Holy Days call with Jewish leaders from the Oval Office.
7 p.m.: Speaks at a National Republican Congressional Committee Battleground Dinner in Washington.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
2:30 p.m.: Speaks in Wilmington, Del., on efforts to develop a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.
Vice President Pence
5:30 p.m.: Participates in a “Workers for Trump” event in Zanesville, Ohio.
Senator Kamala Harris
No public events scheduled.
This is around the time when convention bounces start to diminish. It’s still too soon to say whether President Trump’s bounce will fade or endure, but Tuesday was arguably Joe Biden’s best day of state polls since the Republican National Convention. Here’s a closer look at polls of Florida and Wisconsin.
The best news for Biden in a while in Florida. A poll from Monmouth University showed Mr. Biden up four percentage points among likely voters on average, his best result from a nonpartisan, live interview pollster there in several weeks. He held a wide lead in Florida over the summer, but it has gradually slipped — in part because of a somewhat surprising weakness among Latino voters. The Monmouth poll shows no signs of that weakness, with Mr. Biden leading by 26 points among Hispanic voters, comparable to Hillary Clinton’s performance four years ago. If Mr. Biden can match Mrs. Clinton among Hispanic voters, he’ll be in a strong position: Polls consistently show Mr. Biden running ahead of Mrs. Clinton among white voters.
Now, gauging the support of Hispanic voters in Florida is not easy. About a third of the state’s Hispanic voters are Cuban, and they are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Miami area — the toughest area of the state to reach in a survey. As a group, those voters lean Republican. But the other two-thirds are heavily Democratic and live across the state. On top of that, Hispanic voters are harder to reach in general. They’re younger and concentrated in urban areas, and many speak Spanish as a first language, which adds further difficulties — and costs — for pollsters.
All that to say: In Florida a lot will hinge on how pollsters can measure a relatively small group of hard-to-reach voters. So interpret any single result among Latino voters with caution, especially in Florida.
Another poll showing Trump trailing badly in Wisconsin. One place where the polls have offered consistently bad news for the president is Wisconsin, where Mr. Biden has held a steady lead. A CNN/SSRS poll added to the consensus by showing Mr. Biden up by 10 points, one of his largest leads there this cycle. The firm also gave Mr. Biden a three-point lead in North Carolina, another result consistent with a clear national advantage for the former vice president. One note of caution: CNN/SSRS polls have tended to tilt to the left compared with the average of polls so far this cycle, as well as in 2018.
Tomorrow, we expect another poll of Wisconsin from ABC News/Washington Post. If it joins the club of high-quality pollsters showing at least a five- or six-point lead for Mr. Biden, that would yield about as clear of a picture as you’re going to get in a battleground state so far from an election.
A stable day nationwide. There weren’t many national polls, but the handful we did get were largely consistent with their prior results and with a fairly stable race.
Odds and ends Morning Consult had a relatively weak result for Mr. Biden in Minnesota, though there’s plenty of other recent polling there showing Mr. Biden with a wider lead. Florida Atlantic University showed a tied race in Florida, though the firm doesn’t have much of a track record and its methodology is a mixed bag. Virginia Commonwealth University gave Mr. Biden a double-digit lead in Virginia.
Attorney General William P. Barr said in a recent interview that the United States would be “irrevocably committed to the socialist path” if President Trump was not re-elected, and he accused government workers of working to thwart the administration. The statements cast Mr. Trump’s opponents, and possibly Mr. Barr’s own employees at the Justice Department, as essentially un-American.
“There’s now a clear fork in the road for our country,” Mr. Barr said in a wide-ranging interview with Chicago journalists, an audio recording of which drew wider attention on Tuesday after it was published on Monday.
Mr. Barr has emerged as one of Mr. Trump’s strongest defenders ahead of what could be a bitterly contested presidential election, one that Mr. Barr described as the most significant in a lifetime.
During the interview, he acknowledged that as attorney general, he is “not supposed to get into politics,” a norm that his predecessors have followed to preserve the appearance that in the United States, justice is meted out fairly, regardless of political affiliation.
But Mr. Barr narrowly defined “getting into politics” as making appearances on the campaign trail, and then offered Mr. Trump one of his strongest endorsements yet.
“I think we were getting into position where we were going to find ourselves irrevocably committed to the socialist path,” Mr. Barr said. “I think if Trump loses this election that that will be the case.”
Mr. Barr’s comments will again fuel criticisms that he has politicized the Justice Department. Under his tenure, the department has recommended a more lenient sentence for the president’s longtime friend and associate Roger J. Stone Jr. as well as sought to drop the prosecution against Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn.
Since becoming attorney general in February 2019, Mr. Barr has accused former Justice Department officials and career bureaucrats of working to attack the president, accusations that he repeated in the interview.
“There undoubtedly are many people in the government who surreptitiously work to thwart the administration,” he said.
In his telling, those government employees are working with Mr. Trump’s opponents to undermine democracy and a duly elected president, simply because they do not like him. From the day that Mr. Trump delivered his 2016 victory speech, “they started talking about impeachment,” Mr. Barr said.
He also cast the government’s Russia investigation as part of a partisan plot to remove Mr. Trump. “He’s not a legitimate president with the Russia stuff. He was a pawn of Russia, all this stuff from Day 1,” Mr. Barr said. In past public statements, he has said that he does not believe that the Russia investigation should have been opened.
The Justice Department’s inspector general has determined that law enforcement officials had sufficient cause to open the Russia investigation. A report released last month by the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee found that the Russian government did interfere in the 2016 election to help Mr. Trump win, and that some Trump campaign advisers welcomed Russia’s help. Those conclusions support the findings on Russian election interference from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.
Mr. Barr said that the Democrats were becoming the party that supported violent protest. “Increasingly, the message of the Democrats appears to be Biden or no peace,” Mr. Barr said. “That is rule by the mob. And we’re approaching that.”
The explosion of wildfires across the West has opened a new battleground in the critical competition for suburban voters between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr., with growing evidence that climate change is an acute concern for many Americans, particularly women, viewing the nightly images of destruction and thick blankets of acrid air.
Mr. Trump has sought to combat his sharp decline among suburban voters by asserting that Democratic control of the White House would be a threat to the safety of the suburbs, raising the specter of crime, rioting and an “invasion” of low-income housing that many view as seeking to stoke racist fears.
But Mr. Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, is seeking to redefine what “safety” means for an electorate swept by fear amid a pandemic, social unrest in the streets and now deadly wildfires. He is casting climate change as a more real and immediate threat to the suburbs than the violence portrayed in Mr. Trump’s ads and public remarks, seizing in a speech on Monday on the devastating fires ripping through forests, destroying homes and taking lives.
“It’s particularly tangible for people right now,” said Kate Bedingfield, Mr. Biden’s deputy campaign manager.
Mr. Biden’s speech came as Mr. Trump paid a last-minute trip to California to meet with officials struggling with the catastrophe, and disputed their assertion that there was any connection between the fires sweeping the state and climate change.
The developments suggest that an issue that has always been on the sidelines in national presidential campaigns — and had seemed eclipsed this time by the pandemic and social unrest — may be coming to the forefront with only seven weeks until Election Day.
Michael R. Caputo, the embattled top spokesman of the cabinet department overseeing the coronavirus response, will take a leave of absence “to focus on his health and the well-being of his family,” the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.
Mr. Caputo’s science adviser, Dr. Paul Alexander, will be leaving the department.
The announcement came after a bizarre and inflammatory Facebook outburst on Sept. 13 and disclosures that he and his team had tried to water down official reports of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention about the pandemic.
Mr. Caputo, a long-time Trump loyalist and the Department of Health and Human Services’s assistant secretary of public affairs, had apologized for his Facebook presentation to his staff and to Alex M. Azar II, the department’s leader, after his comments became public.
Since he was installed at the department last April by the White House, Mr. Caputo, a media-savvy former Trump campaign aide, had worked aggressively to develop a media strategy for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. But critics, including some within the administration, complained that he was promoting the president’s political interests over public health.
His Facebook talk, which was shared with The New York Times, included accusations that government scientists were engaging in “sedition” in their handling of the pandemic and that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election.
He also stated in the talk that his “mental health has definitely failed” and that he did not like being alone in Washington where there were “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.”