For nearly four years, congressional Republicans have ducked and dodged an unending stream of offensive statements and norm-shattering behavior from President Trump, ignoring his caustic and scattershot Twitter feed and penchant for flouting party orthodoxy and standing by quietly as he abandoned military allies, attacked American institutions and stirred up racist and nativist fears.
But now, less than three weeks away from the election, facing grim polling numbers and a flood of Democratic money and enthusiasm that has imperiled their majority in the Senate, Republicans on Capitol Hill are beginning to publicly put distance between themselves and the president. The shift indicates that many Republicans, having concluded that Mr. Trump is heading for a loss in November, are grasping to save themselves and rushing to re-establish their reputations and political brand for a coming struggle for the G.O.P.’s identity.
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska unloaded on Mr. Trump in a telephone town hall with constituents on Wednesday, eviscerating the president’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and accusing him of “flirting” with dictators and white supremacists and alienating voters so broadly that he might cause a “Republican blood bath” next month. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the president’s most vocal allies, predicted that the president could very well lose the White House, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas recently warned of a “Republican blood bath of Watergate proportions.”
Even the normally taciturn Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has been more outspoken than usual about his differences with the president, rejecting the president’s calls to “go big” on a stimulus bill and divulging that he has been avoiding the White House for months because of the president’s refusal to put in place coronavirus precautions.
“Voters are set to drive the ultimate wedge between Senate Republicans and Trump,” said Alex Conant, a former aide to Senator Marco Rubio and a former White House spokesman. “It’s a lot easier to get along when you’re winning elections and gaining power. But when you’re on the precipice of what could be a historic loss, there is less eagerness to just get along.”
Republicans could very well hang onto both the White House and Senate, and Mr. Trump still has a firm grip on the party base. But the recent behavior of congressional Republicans has offered an answer to the long-pondered question of whether there was ever a point when Republicans might repudiate a president who so frequently said and did things that undermined their principles and message. The answer appears to be: the moment they believed he would threaten their own political survival.
Thousands of President Trump’s most ardent supporters gathered in Macon, Ga., on Friday evening for a rally at a regional airport. It was Mr. Trump’s second stop of the day, after Florida, to a battleground state he is desperate to win.
The sea of Trump supporters overtook the area in the hours leading up to the rally, a sign — in their words — of the grassroots energy for the president’s campaign. However, the fact that Mr. Trump is in Georgia at all was a bad sign to some political observers, who noted that the state has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992.
In recent years, Democrats have looked to Georgia as their electoral hope of the future, their best shot for breaking the conservative grip on the American South. Statewide candidates like Stacey Abrams came close in 2018, and the demographic changes that made her close race possible have continued apace.
This year, Georgia has shattered records for early voting, and polling has indicated that it could be among the closest states in the country come election night. Georgia also has two Senate elections in 2020, making it a key state in determining the balance of power of Capitol Hill as well.
For Republicans, and Mr. Trump’s campaign, their electoral hopes have centered on increasing turnout from rural regions and among white conservatives, which appeared to make up the bulk of the crowd waiting in Macon. Democrats believe they have made inroads with suburban woman and moderates, while a rising tide of young, nonwhite voters has shifted the state electorate in their favor.
According to data provided by Fair Fight, the voting rights organization started by Ms. Abrams after her loss in the 2018 governor’s race, more than 800,000 voters who were not eligible to vote in 2016 are eligible to participate in 2020.
The analysis shows that people of color make up 49 percent of these newly eligible voters, and that 45 percent of them are under 30 years old. Neither group is part of Mr. Trump’s base.
Television ratings matter to President Trump. So these numbers may sting.
In a result that few in the TV and political arena predicted, Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s ABC town hall on Thursday night drew a larger audience than President Trump’s competing event on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC, according to Nielsen figures.
Mr. Biden’s town hall, which aired on a single network, was seen by an average of 15.1 million viewers, compared to 13.5 million for Mr. Trump, Nielsen said — despite Mr. Trump’s event monopolizing three networks simultaneously.
The town halls were vastly different television spectacles, befitting their respective protagonists. On NBC, Mr. Trump was darting and defiant as the “Today” host Savannah Guthrie pressed him to denounce QAnon and white supremacy (Mr. Trump hesitated on both) and clear up questions about his medical condition.
On ABC, Mr. Biden and the moderator, George Stephanopoulos, engaged in a sober 90-minute policy discussion more akin to a PBS telecast. (Politico wrote that flipping back and forth between the two was like going from Bob Ross to “WrestleMania.”)
NBC had drawn scorn for scheduling its Trump event at the same time as Mr. Biden’s previously-announced ABC forum, depriving viewers of the opportunity to watch both candidates. Executives at NBC News said it was a matter of fairness, saying they wanted the same conditions offered to Mr. Biden at his NBC town hall on Oct. 5. Critics, including the MSNBC star Rachel Maddow, suggested that NBC had erred in allowing Mr. Trump to appear at the same time as Mr. Biden.
In the end, it appears that Mr. Biden did not need to worry. And the fact that the Democrat outdrew his voluble Republican rival is likely to launch dozens of hot takes about whether, after four seasons, Americans are simply growing bored with The Trump Show.
Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia, tried to energize supporters ahead of a rally on Friday for President Trump in Macon, Ga., by mocking the first name of Senator Kamala Harris, his colleague in the Senate for nearly four years.
“Kah-MAH-lah or KAH-mah-lah or Kamamboamamla, I don’t know,” he told the crowd. Those were only a few of the iterations Mr. Perdue tried with her name.
Republicans have spent months mispronouncing the name of the California senator, making a repeated error that some Democrats argue is not just disrespectful but racist — a concerted effort to portray Ms. Harris as not quite American. During his town hall event on Thursday night, Mr. Trump said her name incorrectly, as did multiple speakers during the Republican National Convention in August.
Mr. Perdue faces a surprisingly tough race for re-election against Jon Ossoff, a Democrat who became a party star after coming surprisingly close to winning a special election for a House seat in 2017.
Ms. Harris has dealt with mistaken pronunciations of her first name since her earliest days in politics. During her 2016 Senate race, she even created a campaign video showing young children explaining how to pronounce her first name correctly.
Ms. Harris’ first name is pronounced “KAH’-mah-lah” — or, as she explains in her biography, “‘comma-la,’ like the punctuation mark.”
During President Trump’s town hall on Thursday, nine audience members asked him questions on topics ranging from health care to corporate tax rates to the coronavirus.
None was more memorable than Paulette Dale, the last audience member to take the microphone.
Dr. Dale, 68, of Highland Beach, Fla., asked the president about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But it wasn’t her question that caught viewers’ attention — it was the off-the-cuff compliment she delivered just beforehand.
“I have to say, you have a great smile,” she said. Mr. Trump grinned and thanked her, and the audience clapped. “He does,” she added. “You’re so handsome when you smile.”
On Friday, Dr. Dale said that it was important to be kind to people even while disagreeing with them — and that she meant what she said. “While I am not a Trump supporter and take issue with many of his actions, lack of transparency, evasions to questions, and policies, I actually do think he has a beautiful smile,” she added.
At the town hall on Thursday, Dr. Dale was introduced as a registered Republican who had voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Addressing the president, she pointed out that his administration has tried to cut DACA — a program meant to shield from deportation people who were brought into the United States as children, which most Americans support — and asked whether he would try again if reelected.
In response, Mr. Trump said he would “take care of DACA” and spoke in favor of a strong border with Mexico to prevent illegal immigration.
“To my dismay, the president’s response to my question was really a non-answer with little substance,” Dr. Dale said on Friday. “What does ‘take care of DACA’ even mean?”
That was not the only question Dr. Dale had prepared for the president. Her other prepared query, which she did not have time to ask, focused on climate change — a topic that was not mentioned at all during the hourlong town hall but will be on the agenda at the next presidential debate.
“I will vote for Joe Biden,” Dr. Dale said on Friday. “I cannot support President Trump in good conscience due to his irresponsible pandemic response, rambling incoherent responses to queries, bully tactics, juvenile name calling of colleagues, world leaders, rivals and his reluctance to listen to experts or believe the scientists.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr. gave an impassioned pitch for the Affordable Care Act in Michigan on Friday, amplifying the message Democrats made at the Supreme Court hearings this week when they warned repeatedly that Republicans pose a direct threat to the health care law.
Campaigning in Southfield, a predominantly Black suburb of Detroit, he spoke in highly personal terms about his late son Beau Biden’s own experience with the health care system while dying of brain cancer and vowed, “When I’m president I’ll take care of your health coverage the same way I would my own family.”
Since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mr. Biden and Democrats in Washington have tried to tie the Supreme Court vacancy to the future of the Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration is seeking to overturn in a case that will be heard by the court shortly after the election.
During Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings this week, many Democrats, including Senator Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, focused on the law, even displaying blown-up photographs of people who would suffer if the law is struck down.
“He wants to get rid of Obamacare in its entirety,” Mr. Biden said during his speech on Friday, as he laced into President Trump for trying to overturn it. “With this nominee, he’s made that incredibly clear as well. Michigan deserves so much better.”
During his speech, Mr. Biden also touted the Obama administration’s work to rescue the auto industry during the financial crisis. “We bet on autoworkers, we bet on the U.A.W., and they came through and it paid off,” he said to applause, in an effort to win back the union workers who flipped to Mr. Trump four years ago.
And just days after a kidnapping plot was revealed against Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, who introduced Mr. Biden at the event, Mr. Biden criticized Mr. Trump for refusing to denounce a white supremacist organization on the debate stage two weeks ago.
“There is no place for hate in America. Period. None,” Mr. Biden said. “It will not be tolerated.”
Mr. Biden’s trip to Michigan — his third to the critical battleground in recent weeks — came a day before Mr. Trump is scheduled to hold a rally in Muskegon, on the state’s western shores. Later on Friday, the former vice president also held a get out the vote drive-in rally at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit where he urged Michigan voters to vote early, condemned white supremacy and advocated for racial justice.
“Think about what it takes to be a Black person and love America today — that is a deep love of this country,” he said, that for “far too long has not been fully recognized.”
That Mr. Biden delivered his remarks in Southfield reflects the push his campaign is making to engage Black voters, a crucial voting bloc for Democrats, who helped fuel former President Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012.
The diminished enthusiasm among Black voters for Hillary Clinton in battleground states like Michigan — which Mr. Trump won by less than 11,000 votes — contributed to her loss in 2016, a warning sign for Democrats that looms over Mr. Biden’s campaign.
The campaign announced on Friday that Mr. Obama would campaign on behalf of Mr. Biden in Philadelphia next Wednesday.
Rallying supporters in Ocala, Fla., on Friday afternoon, President Trump repeatedly appeared to refer to Representative Matt Gaetz, one of his most loyal supporters in Congress, as Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign aide who was a key witness in the Mueller investigation who was sentenced to jail last year for his part in a financial scheme.
The president brought up “Rick Gates” during an apparently unscripted riff about Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. Mr Trump said that he had been blamed when her husband was caught requesting to launch his boat over Memorial Day, when the state was under lock down. “It was Trump’s fault,” he said. “Can it ever be, like, Rick Gates’ fault?”
At another point, Mr. Trump scanned the crowd, apparently looking for Mr. Gaetz. “Where is Rick? He’s here,” Mr. Trump said, before correcting himself and identifying Matt Gaetz as “one of our stars.” It was not clear if Mr. Trump was conflating the names of Senator Rick Scott and Mr. Gaetz, or if there was some other explanation for the gaffe.
Mr. Trump routinely argues that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is mentally incapable of serving as president of the United States because of similar verbal blunders. Mr. Biden has misstated the location where he is campaigning, or what position he is running for (Mr. Biden last week misspoke and said he was running for Senate).
During his remarks in Ocala, Mr. Trump also said he wasn’t just running against Mr. Biden. “We’re running against the left wing media, and we’re running against big tech,” he said.
Later in the rally, Mr. Trump led the largely maskless crowd in what sounded like a half-hearted cheer of “We Want Hope,” referring to Hope Hicks, one of his closest advisers, who also tested positive for the coronavirus but this week returned to the campaign trail with him.
Mr. Trump commended her quick recovery, apparently pulling her onto the stage in order to show another embodiment of an aide who was following his instructions of not letting Covid “dominate your life.”
“We can share a microphone now!” Ms. Hicks exclaimed from the stage, where she appeared without a mask, quickly leaving, claiming she suffered from stage fright.
Progressive activists who want Democrats to expand the Supreme Court and pack it with additional liberal justices are mustering a new argument: Republican-appointed jurists, they say, keep using their power to make it harder for Americans to vote.
Backed by a new study of how federal judges and justices have ruled in election-related cases this year, the activists argue that mainstream Democrats should view their idea as a justified way to restore and protect democracy, rather than as a radical and destabilizing escalation of partisan warfare over the judiciary.
The study, the “Anti-Democracy Scorecard,” was commissioned by the group Take Back the Court, which supports expanding the judiciary. It identified 309 votes by judges and justices in 175 election-related decisions and found a partisan pattern: Republican appointees interpreted the law in a way that impeded ballot access 80 percent of the time, versus 37 percent for Democratic ones.
The numbers were even more stark when limited to judges appointed by President Trump, who has had tremendous success at rapidly reshaping the judiciary. Of 60 rulings in election-related cases, 85 percent were “anti-democracy” according to the analysis.
“There is a systematic pattern of Republican-appointed judges and justices tipping the scales in favor of the G.O.P. by making voting harder,” said Aaron Belkin, a political-science professor and the director of Take Back the Court.
The rulings included numerous challenges to state-imposed limits on ballot access that have come under scrutiny in light of the pandemic, including requirements to obtain signatures from other people and deadlines and other limits on absentee or mail-in ballots.
Mr. Belkin argued that the study results should be seen as part of a larger critique of how American democracy has become “rigged” in favor of conservatives, entrenching minority rule of the country.
Even when Democrats enjoy majority support, they often lose elections, he said: The Electoral College in presidential races and the Senate’s structure disproportionately empower conservative-leaning voters in sparsely populated states. He called that an undemocratic advantage augmented by partisan gerrymandering of House districts and by Republicans’ increasing imposition of voting restrictions that tend to impede groups that lean Democratic. And conservative, Republican-appointed judges firmly control the judiciary.
The reliably Republican state of Alaska has soured on President Trump’s job performance, but Republicans still lead the state’s races for president, Senate and the House, according to a poll released Friday by The New York Times and Siena College.
Over all, Mr. Trump leads former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. 45 percent to 39 percent, with 8 percent supporting the Libertarian candidate, Jo Jorgensen. Forty-seven percent of Alaskans say they approve of how Mr. Trump is handling his job as president, while the same number disapprove.
New York Times/Siena College poll of likely voters in Alaska
Based on a New York Times/Siena College poll of 423 likely voters from Oct. 9-14, 2020.
Dan Sullivan, the incumbent Republican senator, leads the Democratic nominee, Al Gross, by 45 to 37, with 10 percent backing the Alaska Independence candidate, John Howe. And in a rematch of 2018’s House race, the Republican Don Young, the longest-serving member of Congress, leads the Democratic nominee, Alyse Galvin, 49 percent to 41 percent. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.7 percentage points.
Alaska has emerged as an unlikely battleground in the late stages of the campaign, as Democrats and Republicans have rushed to run advertisements in both the House and Senate races. The state has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1964, and Republicans enjoy a significant advantage in party registration and party identification, according to the survey.
But many Alaskans have turned against Mr. Trump after backing him by 15 points against Hillary Clinton four years ago, creating a potential opening for the Democrats in a state with an independent streak. Many voters are backing a minor-party candidate, so there is an unusual amount of uncertainty.
Rupert Murdoch, the media titan behind Fox News, The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal, has told several people that he thinks former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will beat President Trump in November, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Mr. Murdoch, known for speaking freely among associates and family members, has said on several occasions he thinks Mr. Biden is likely to win the presidency, the person said. He has used the word “landslide” in some instances.
Mr. Murdoch prides himself on his ability to sniff out the electorate’s political mood, but in this case he sees Mr. Trump’s character flaws as his biggest Achilles heel. The polling data is the least of it, this person said. The Daily Beast first reported on Mr. Murdoch’s political prognostications.
The Trump campaign had a different take.
“The president is going to be re-elected,” said Tim Murtaugh, a campaign spokesman.
Mr. Murdoch supported Mr. Trump in 2016, and Fox News’s biggest prime time stars have been staunch defenders of Mr. Trump and his policies. A spokesman for Mr. Murdoch said he declined to comment.
In late summer, expecting a flood of absentee ballot requests, local election officials in 16 counties in Ohio and Pennsylvania contracted with a mailing company to handle them.
But when it came time to print and ship the ballots, the private company, Midwest Direct, proved unable to handle the deluge. In Pennsylvania, for instance, nearly 30,000 ballots sent to voters in the county that includes Pittsburgh went to the wrong addresses.
And several Ohio counties that expected absentee ballots printed by the company to land in voters’ mailboxes are now scrambling to print them themselves or figure out last-minute plans less than three weeks before Election Day.
The Cleveland-based company’s inability to meet demand has underscored the stress that mail voting has put on the nation’s election process as the coronavirus pandemic curtails in-person voting — including in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Throughout the campaign, President Trump has loudly and baselessly claimed that mail-in voting is rife with fraud perpetrated by Democratic partisans.
But the problems cropping up across the country with mail-in voting appear to be the result of overwhelmed systems, not intentional vote-rigging. And in this case, Midwest Direct is owned by supporters of Mr. Trump who until recently flew a Trump 2020 flag above the company’s headquarters.
“We have freedom to vote for who we want and support who we want,” said one of the owners, Richard Gebbie.
There is no evidence Midwest Direct has done anything improper with the ballots. Election security experts said there was little any vendor could do to tamper with the integrity of absentee ballots.
But the company’s customers in government are seething. Local officials said Midwest Direct offered a variety of explanations for why the promised absentee ballots were slow to be delivered, from mechanical breakdowns to a higher volume of ballot requests than anticipated.
In Lucas County, Ohio, which includes Toledo, Midwest Direct sent out 60,000 ballots more than a week late, and communicated little about the cause of delays, said Pete Gerken, a county commissioner.
“We have lost nine to 10 days in the process and those days are not recoverable,” Mr. Gerken said.
On Thursday The Babylon Bee, a conservative Christian satire site, reported that Twitter had shut down its entire network to prevent users from sharing negative news about Joseph R. Biden Jr.
This was, like everything else on The Bee, a joke, in this case a mash-up of two real-life events: Twitter had taken more limited action to restrict its users from sharing an unverified New York Post report about Mr. Biden and his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, sparking outrage on the right. And on Thursday evening, Twitter experienced widespread outages for over an hour.
The fakeness of The Bee’s news, however, may have been lost on at least one reader. Early Friday morning, President Trump straight-facedly shared the story on Twitter. “Wow, this has never been done in history,” he wrote. “Why is Twitter doing this. Bringing more attention to Sleepy Joe.”
Twitter Shuts Down Entire Network To Slow Spread Of Negative Biden News https://t.co/JPmjOrKPcr via @TheBabylonBee Wow, this has never been done in history. This includes his really bad interview last night. Why is Twitter doing this. Bringing more attention to Sleepy Joe & Big T
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2020
Though Mr. Trump has occasionally retweeted stories from The Bee before, the site’s editors said recently they were confident the president was aware that their news isn’t real. “He does know it’s satire,” said Kyle Mann, The Bee’s editor in chief. “We are assured.”
The piece offered fairly clear clues that it was, in fact, fictional, including a sentence in which Twitter’s C.E.O., Jack Dorsey, “smashed a glass box in his office reading, ‘Break In Case Of Bad Publicity For Democrats.’”
Anyone wondering what The Bee would make of the president’s shout-out did not have to wait long. An hour later, The Bee tweeted: “President Trump Declares The Babylon Bee His Most-Trusted News Source.”
President Trump’s rude and demeaning comments to and about women are no secret. Just last week, he called Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, a “monster.” A new ad from the Lincoln Project urges voters to consider what it would be like to have a different kind of president — a man, it suggests, who actually respects women.
The ad sharply contrasts Mr. Trump with Joseph R. Biden Jr., elevating Mr. Biden’s selection of Ms. Harris as his running mate as proof that he “doesn’t just value a female voice but chooses one to be his right-hand woman.”
The 90-second ad opens with two directives: “Imagine a young girl looking in the mirror, searching for role models in the world to give her hope that one day she, too, can make a difference. Now imagine how she feels when she watches women being verbally attacked.” Cue a series of clips that show Mr. Trump belittling women, including female reporters. “Your daughters are listening,” the ad says.
Then as the music soars, the ad encourages viewers to “imagine a different future for her” — one with Ms. Harris as Mr. Biden’s “right-hand woman.” It closes with a note of hope that doubles as a warning: “Your actions on Nov. 3 will define who she sees.”
The ad does not cover the sharply divergent views both men — and both parties — have on issues that affect women, including women’s reproductive rights.
Mr. Trump is known for his sexist remarks, and the clips the ad shows are real. Mr. Biden, on the other hand, has long styled himself a champion of women. He still refers to the Violence Against Women Act as his proudest legislative achievement and he said months before he selected Ms. Harris as his running mate that he would name a woman to his ticket.
Where It’s Running
A slightly modified 60-second version of the ad is running nationally on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN, according to Advertising Analytics. It began airing on Thursday morning.
The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, ran a similar ad four years ago. It did not work.
And the Lincoln Project is a group of Never Trump Republicans founded almost exclusively by men, so this ad has a tone somewhat equivalent to when men stand up and say “as a father of daughters” to denounce bad behavior by other men.
Still, the juxtaposition between the two candidates is powerful and likely to resonate with voters who are tired of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric.
In their televised town halls on Thursday night, President Trump continued his pattern of exaggerated, misleading and false statements on many topics, while former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. stuck closer to the facts.
Mr. Trump continued to state without any factual basis that the coronavirus pandemic will end soon, and repeated his false statements that most people who wear masks get sick. He also dodged repeated questions about whether he had a negative coronavirus test immediately before the first presidential debate.
The president’s characterizations of the economy’s performance under his administration were inflated, and he again claimed to have done more for African-Americans than any of his predecessors except for Lincoln, an assertion that historians say is not accurate.
Mr. Biden got his numbers wrong on troop levels in Afghanistan relative to when he left office four years ago and mischaracterized an element of the Green New Deal, but generally avoided clear misstatements.
A team of journalists from The New York Times fact-checked both candidates in their separate appearances, providing context and analysis.
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