Monthly Archives: July 2024

Election 2024: Day -115

Last night Biden held an hour-long press conference in the early evening, at the conclusion of the NATO Summit in Washington DC, aired live on the three traditional broadcast networks as well as the cable news networks. (More people watched it than watched this year’s Oscars.) After a few minutes of opening remarks delivered via teleprompter, things got off to a very shaky start when, in the first sentence of his answer to the first question, he referred to Kamala Harris as “Vice-President Trump.”


It got better from there, though. I thought David Frum had the best summary of the evening, writing in The Atlantic in an article entitled Biden’s Heartbreaking Press Conference:

So here’s the heartbreak.

Three-quarters of an hour of detailed, sophisticated answers. Mastery of detail. Knowledge of world personalities. Courtesy to the reporters before him. Accurate recall of facts and figures. Justified pride in a record of accomplishment. A spark of sharp humor at the very end.

Also: Verbal stumbles. Thoughts half-finished. Strangled vocal intonations. Flares of unprompted anger. Glimpses of the politician’s inner monologue—resentment at how underappreciated he is—spoken aloud, as it never should be, in all its narcissism and vulnerability.

The narcissism and resentment that Frum referenced was my wife’s biggest takeaway from the press conference. She found it very off-putting, and it made her think less of Biden than she did going in.

As such, the press conference appears to have done little to resolve the post-debate chaos that has embroiled the Democratic party. On PredictIt, the Harris contract spent most of today trading above the Biden contract, although in the evening hours the Biden contract has rallied to $0.49 after being mired in the low $0.40s. The current tally of sitting Democrats Congresspeople who have called for Biden to drop out has risen to 1 Senator (Welch, of Vermont) and 18 Representatives.

A group of 24 former Democratic Congresspeople, the most prominent of whom is Senator Harkin of Iowa, released a letter today calling on Biden to release his delegates so that the upcoming DNC could be an open convention, the kind we had in the 30s (and, most recently, in 1952).

A new ABC poll released yesterday says that 85% of voters think Biden is too old to be elected to a new term as President, while 60% think the same of Trump. Those numbers are up from 68% and 44%, respectively, 14 months ago. The poll also indicates that 52% of Biden supporters, and 67% of all voters, think Biden should withdraw.

I don’t know where we go from here.

In other news, today the jury started deliberations in the federal corruption trial of Senator Menendez and did not reach a verdict after their first three hours.

Election 2024: Day -117

Things remain unsettled in Democratic circles, despite Biden’s best efforts to put any uncertainty behind him.

On Monday morning Biden made an unscheduled dial-in appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”, bringing back memories of Trump dialing into Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” from the White House residence. Shortly before that, Biden had sent a two-page letter to Congressional Democrats, reiterating his commitment to the campaign and urging the party to unify behind him. With those actions, the Biden contract on PredictIt spiked upwards on Monday morning, trading as high as $0.67 and ending the day at $0.59.

After a steady day of trading yesterday, things started to turn badly for the Biden contract this morning after Nancy Pelosi’s appearance on “Morning Joe.” On the show, when asked if she supported Biden’s continued candidacy, she said something to the effect of “the President needs to decide what he’s going to do,” which is an odd statement in light of Biden’s letter on Monday in which he was crystal clear on what he intended to do. Another factor today may have been George Clooney’s NYT op-ed called “I Love Joe Biden. But We Need a New Nominee.” In his piece Clooney writes:

We are not going to win in November with this president. On top of that, we won’t win the House, and we’re going to lose the Senate. This isn’t only my opinion; this is the opinion of every senator and Congress member and governor who I’ve spoken with in private. Every single one, irrespective of what he or she is saying publicly.

The Biden contract dropped from $0.61 early this morning to $0.41 as I write this, with the Harris contract now back up to $0.43.

Today the Cook Political Report moved AZ/GA/NV from “Toss Up” to “Leans Republican”, and moved MN/NH/Omaha from “Likely Democratic” to “Leans Democratic”. All of this is consistent with what we had previously discussed with respect to Nate Silver’s model.

Speaking of Silver, his team published an analysis today estimating the 2024 “electoral college lean” as R +2.0, versus R +3.5 in 2020 and R +2.9 in 2016. Given this lean, in 14% of their scenarios Biden wins the popular vote but loses the electoral college.

Trump has kept an unusually low profile in the past week, which seems like smart politics with Biden under such pressure. With the RNC starting on Monday, Trump is widely expected to announce his vice-presidential candidate over the weekend. The three names one now hears the most are Ohio Senator Vance, North Dakota Governor Burgum, and Florida Senator Rubio. I don’t quite understand how Rubio would fit on the ticket, in light of the 12th Amendment, but Bush-Cheney overcame that problem.

Election 2024: Day -120

It continues to be a big week, globally, for elections: On top of Labour’s victory in the UK earlier this week, yesterday Iran elected a new moderate president, while today it appears that tactical voting by the left and centrist parties have prevented the far-right National Rally from getting a majority in in France, although the outcome remains unclear as I write this.

Between the 2020 and 2024 US elections, not only did I change my voter registration from Illinois to Minnesota, but also our Minnesota house was redistricted out of a safe Democratic seat and into a much more competitive seat: the Minnesota 2nd, currently held by Democrat Angie Craig. I mention this because yesterday our Representative became the first sitting Democratic Representative from a swing district, and 5th overall, to call for Biden to drop out of the race.

So far Biden remains competely committed to running, saying in his Friday interview with George Stephanopolous (which, at only 20 minutes in length, was shorter than I had been thinking it would be) that only the “Lord Almighty” could convince him to drop out of the race. The prediction markets have not rebounded in his favor over the weekend, however, with the Biden contract sitting at $0.41 as I write this. And reports are coming out that, on a private call among House Democratic leadership today, more leaders spoke in favor of Biden dropping out than spoke in favor of him staying.

Election 2024: Day -122

Before and after the fireworks last night, I was glued to my television watching BBC coverage of the 2024 UK election. The final results were very consistent with expectations: a comfortable majority for Labour even though they didn’t really expand their vote share, as they exploited shifts away from the SNP in Scotland and away from the Conservatives to the new Reform UK party in England. The Conservatives are down but not, unlike the 1993 Progressive Conservative party in Canada, out; here Reform finished 3rd in the popular vote but only managed to gain 4 seats, the same as the Greens and Plaid Cymru. Meanwhile the centrist Liberal Democrats, despite finishing 4th in the popular vote, grew their seat count to an all-time high of 71.

One has to admire British efficiency when it comes to running an election. Polls closed everywhere at 10pm. Paper ballots only. No early voting. Mail-in voting is allowed, but the vote has to be received by 10pm for it to count. This was the first election for which voter photo ID was mandatory, which was mildly controversial but does not appear to have depressed turnout much if at all. Counting starts at 10pm, and – here’s the craziest part – no preliminary results are released! As such, for the first hour-and-a-half of TV coverage, there was nothing to talk about except the exit polling, which has historically proven to be exceptionally accurate. The swiftest seats reported before midnight, and most seats between 3am and 6am. By shortly after 5am, enough winners had been officially declared to ensure a Labour majority government; a few hours after that, the transition of power was formally completed and Keir Starmer became prime minister.

Of course, the US has five times the population of the UK and two-thirds the number of constituencies, so the vote to be counted in a typical US congressional district would be something like 7.5x that of a typical UK riding. Plus, in the UK there was only the one election on the ballot, because local elections are held at a completely separate time. Still, how nice it would be to have complete finality about vote-counting within hours of the polls being closed.

On PredictIt, the Biden contract had recovered from the steep dip on July 3rd that prompted my last post, closing the day back at $0.47. Since then things have again moved a little against Biden; at this writing the Biden contract is at $0.40 while the Harris contract is at $0.48. Today Biden is giving a lengthy interview to ABC, which will be aired on a tape-delayed basis tonight. Silver’s model has ticked up to 71% for Trump over Biden based just on polling updates (i.e., the model doesn’t know about the debate performance and the emerging controversy over Biden), and now sees Trump as the popular vote favorite also.

Election 2024: Day -124

Tomorrow is Independence Day in the US, as well as election day in the UK.

A brief note here, about current activity in prediction markets. PredictIt has a contract on who the 2024 Democratic nominee will be, which pays out $1.00 if you’re right and zero if you’re not, and hence can be viewed as a market-based probability assessment. Through the last three months, the Biden contract had traded steadily in the $0.81 to $0.89 range, on fairly light volume.

Ever since the debate, volume on that contract has ticked up significantly, and Biden’s value has been declining. Twenty-four hours ago, the Biden contract was at $0.63. Twelve hours ago, it was at $0.44. An hour ago, it was $0.41. Right now, it’s down to $0.28. The Harris contract started trading level with the Biden contract for the first time several hours ago, and right now it is up to $0.57.

A new CNN poll has Trump ahead of Biden 49-43, but Trump ahead of Harris by a narrower margin, 47-45. The poll also said that 75% of registered voters believe the Democrats’ chances would be improved by taking Biden off the ticket.

Election 2024: Day -125

Yesterday SCOTUS released its opinions in Trump v. U.S., the presidential immunity case. Here is how the Court’s website succinctly describes its holding, in a 6-3 decision falling squarely along party lines:

The nature of Presidential power entitles a former President to absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions within his conclusive and preclusive constitutional authority; he is also entitled to at least presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official acts; there is no immunity for unofficial acts.

A rather startling outcome, and one that produced the relatively rare wording “I dissent”, rather than the usual “I respectfully dissent”, from the liberals. Sotomayor went further with her rhetoric, ending her opinion with the following sentence: “With fear for our democracy, I dissent.”

The paradigm advanced by Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion, per this layman’s reading, is as follows. If the government seeks to prosecute an ex-President for actions taken in office, then there first needs to be an analysis performed of how those actions fall into three different buckets: official acts having absolute immunity (for which no prosecution is possible), unofficial acts (for which there is no impediment to prosecution), and official acts having presumptive immunity. In order to pursue a prosecution with respect to an act falling within that latter category, the government bears the “burden to rebut the presumption of immunity” by “show[ing] that applying a criminal prohibition to that act would pose no ‘dangers of intrusion on the authority and functions of the Executive Branch'” (the quotations are from Roberts’ opinion; the internal quotation is from the Court’s 1982 opinion in Fitzgerald v. Nixon, the previous case law on presidential immunity in a civil rather than criminal context). Moreover, “[q]uestions about whether the President may be held liable for particular actions, consistent with the separation of powers, must be addressed at the outset of a proceeding,” which I believe means that if a trial court were to rule that a prosecution could move forward, that decision would be subject to interlocutory appeal before the trial could proceed.

With this decision, the U.S. v. Trump Jan 6th case will soon be returned to Judge Chutkan; but even in a world where Trump does not win re-election and order the prosecution’s end, a trial in that case now seems years away. What seems likely to happen later this summer is some form of evidentiary hearing, under which the tripartite analysis described above is performed. However, whatever ruling Chutkan makes would likely be appealed to the D.C. Circuit, and ultimately SCOTUS, before a trial could be conducted. And some of the conduct described in the original indictment, such as Trump’s efforts to install Jeffrey Clark as Acting Attorney General, are not only the type of official acts that are non-prosecutable but also, per Roberts’ opinion, cannot be introduced as evidence in a prosecution of other acts. Other conduct, such as Trump’s conversations with Vice President Pence about Pence’s role in counting electoral votes, lies in the gray area and may eventually come back to SCOTUS for final resolution, but in the normal course of events (i.e., after briefing, determination by a trial court, and appellate review).

This decision will surely have implications for the U.S. v. Trump documents case under Judge Cannon, although that case has already been moving at a glacial pace. Cannon will likely be very interested in Justice Thomas’ solo concurrence in Trump v. U.S., in which Thomas urges lower courts to seriously engage with the argument that Special Counsel Smith lacks the legal authority to prosecute anyone. As such, one can easily imagine that issue making its way to SCOTUS in the normal course of events, before either U.S. v. Trump case can go to trial.

And although we’ve already had our verdict in New York v. Trump, this SCOTUS decision will seemingly have an impact on that case as well. Yesterday Trump’s attorneys filed a motion to have the verdict set aside. Today Judge Merchan set deadline for both sides’ briefings on that motion and set a date of September 6th for his ruling; in conjunction with that, he delayed sentencing from July 11th to September 18th (if necessary). My intuition is that ultimately the SCOTUS ruling will not have any impact on the New York conviction, but we shall see.

Looking beyond the impact of Trump v. U.S. on Trump’s current legal woes, the Court’s decision has significant implications as to what mechanisms exist to mitigate Presidential behavior. To the extent certain actions lie within the exclusive domain of the executive branch, under Trump v. U.S. the President is immune from future prosecutions for those actions, and as such impeachment becomes the only punitive mechanism available. Roberts’ logic as to this being how our constitutional system was intended to operate is, if not unassailable, at least very compelling. The problem in practice is that the founders did not anticipate the extent to which Congress and the President would become politically co-dependent, making a successful impeachment extremely difficult if not impossible. With yesterday’s decision, it becomes even more vital to keep would-be bad actors out of the White House in the first instance, which is really what the election of 2024 is about.

In other news, we have a headline from Politico today that reads “Democrats begin attacking Biden’s performance and campaign,” with at least one sitting Democratic congressman (Doggett, a 77-year-old from the Texas 37th, a safe blue seat in Austin) openly calling for Biden to drop out. Tim Ryan, a former Democratic congressman who made an early exit from the 2020 presidential primary (endorsing Biden) and then lost the Ohio Senate election to J.D. Vance in 2022, published an op-ed in Newsweek calling for Harris to be the nominee.