• Wed. Oct 28th, 2020

The ‘Great Environmentalist’ President

Trump pivots on climate, but maintains his stance on coronavirus safety measures. It’s Wednesday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

  • Donald Trump, environmentalist? The president signed an order yesterday extending a ban on oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and restricting drilling along the southeastern coast of the United States. And during a campaign stop in Jupiter, Fla., he wasted no time in taking credit for it.

  • Declaring himself “a great environmentalist,” President Trump boasted: “This protects your beautiful Gulf and your beautiful ocean, and it will for a long time to come.”

  • It was a remarkably bold turnabout from a president who has called climate change a “hoax,” and had consistently expressed support for ending moratoriums on all offshore drilling. He eventually said he would be willing to let Florida keep its moratorium after he received heavy pushback from the tourism, environmental and real estate sectors.

  • But yesterday, he extended the existing ban on drilling in parts of the Gulf of Mexico until 2032, and broadened it to include parts of the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

  • Trump announced just months after taking office that the United States would exit the Paris climate accord, and he has consistently prioritized eliminating domestic environmental regulations. This summer, he weakened the National Environmental Policy Act, known by conservationists as the Magna Carta of environmental law, to expedite the construction of freeways, power plants and pipelines.

  • More consistent with Trump’s typical persona — if not with his overall campaign strategy — were comments he made on Twitter yesterday, lashing out at coronavirus restrictions and criticizing local Democratic officials for keeping economies closed.

  • “These shutdowns are ridiculous, and only being done to hurt the economy prior to the most important election, perhaps, in our history!” he wrote. (A poll last month by Fox News found that by 13 percentage points, Americans said that further reopening the economy was not worth the health risk.)

  • In the spring, Trump pushed hard against states that were restricting public gatherings and the reopening of nonessential businesses. But coronavirus rates — and Americans’ disapproval of his handling of the virus — soon shot upward.

  • His ratings on his handling of the outbreak have not recovered significantly since then, and he appears to be increasingly betting on the development of a virus vaccine before November. The Trump campaign placed the hunt for a vaccine at the heart of an ad it unveiled last week, in which the narrator says, “In the race for a vaccine, the finish line is approaching.”

  • Joe Biden and Kamala Harris published a joint statement yesterday throwing cool water on Trump’s talk of an expedited vaccine, and continuing the skeptical tone they had struck in comments over the weekend.

  • “President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence see a Covid-19 vaccine as a political tool,” Biden and Harris wrote. “We see it as a product of science and research.”

  • The Democratic candidates outlined three main questions for the Trump administration regarding the potential vaccine: What scientific criteria are being used to measure its safety and efficacy? Who will guarantee that the vaccine is driven by science, not politics? How will the vaccine be freely and fairly distributed across the country?

  • Donald Trump, self-funder? Amid reports of a potential cash crunch for his campaign, the president said yesterday that he might be willing to put his own money into his re-election bid. “If I have to, I will,” he said.

  • Of the $1.1 billion that Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party have raised since the start of 2019, more than $800 million has been spent. The story is inverted in Biden’s camp: After coming out of the primary season relatively low on cash, his campaign and the Democrats have speedily gained ground this summer, including raising a whopping $364 million in August — more than both campaigns’ July totals combined.

  • Trump invested more than $50 million into his 2016 primary run but didn’t spend his own money in the general election, and so far he hasn’t this cycle.

  • In a rare move, the Justice Department is seeking to take over Trump’s legal defense in a defamation suit brought by E. Jean Carroll, who has accused him of raping her in the 1990s.

  • Government lawyers said in court papers filed yesterday that he was acting in his official capacity as president when he denied ever having known her — the claim at the heart of Carroll’s lawsuit. The Justice Department cited the Federal Tort Claims Act, which it said allowed the department to take over the case and move it from state court to federal court.

  • In a statement, Carroll’s lawyer yesterday evening called it a “shocking” attempt “to wield the power of the U.S. government to evade responsibility for his private misconduct.”

  • In New Hampshire’s state primary elections yesterday, popular incumbents from opposite sides of the aisle easily captured their parties’ nominations, setting up a presidential showdown in a state that broke for Hillary Clinton by just three-tenths of a percentage point.

  • Chris Sununu, the Republican governor, and Jeanne Shaheen, a Democratic senator, were both heavily favored to win their primaries. But the competition to take them on was much more fierce.

  • In the Republican Senate primary, the Trump-backed lawyer Corky Messner defeated his opponent, the retired Army general Don Bolduc. A University of New Hampshire poll published last week found that Messner trailed Shaheen by more than 15 points in a theoretical general-election matchup.

  • In the race to challenge Sununu, Dan Feltes, the Democratic leader in the State Senate, held a slight edge over Andru Volinsky, a lawyer endorsed by Bernie Sanders who has broken with New Hampshire convention by refusing to take “the pledge,” a commitment not to introduce sales or state income taxes. If he prevails, Feltes will face an uphill battle against Sununu, who has received high marks for his response to the coronavirus crisis and enjoys broad approval.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump during a rally yesterday at the Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem, N.C.

If Biden prevails in November, it will be on the back of gains made by Democrats two years earlier, when voters turned against Trump’s allies in Congress and tilted Democratic in House elections by a historically large margin.

The Pew Research Center yesterday released its analysis of the 2018 midterms, using survey data from over 7,500 confirmed voters; its findings show where Democrats made the most significant gains two years ago — and where Biden will be looking to hold on to tenuous support.

The study found that Democrats held even or picked up ground with virtually all voting groups in 2018, except for those at the core of Trump’s base — Republican partisans and white evangelicals.

Independent voters swung from being basically split in 2016 — 43 percent for Trump, 42 percent Clinton — to backing Democratic House candidates by a 15-point margin in 2018. And suburban voters, who had tilted slightly toward Trump in 2016, favored Democrats in 2018 by seven points.

While midterms never have the same turnout as presidential elections, participation was high in 2018: Nearly half of the eligible population voted — the best turnout for such elections in 100 years. Of those midterm voters, 13 percent had either sat out the 2016 election or hadn’t been eligible and were voting for the first time in 2018.

Of those who hadn’t cast ballots in the presidential race, more than two-thirds voted for Democratic House candidates in the midterms.

Voters who had voted third party in 2016 also broke blue two years later: 49 percent Democratic, 37 percent Republican.

A notable exception to the 2018 trend came from Republican voters, who — two years after Trump’s insurgent takeover of the G.O.P. — voted for Republican candidates 91 percent of the time. That’s more loyalty than Republican voters had shown to Trump two years earlier.

While the Democrats’ gains in 2018 were particularly large, a newly elected president’s party almost always loses some ground in the subsequent midterm elections. Biden and down-ballot Democrats will need to fight to maintain the advantage they gained in 2018.

But recent polling suggests the tides are still in their favor: A Grinnell College/Selzer poll from late August showed Democrats with a seven-point advantage in House races nationwide, roughly even with Biden’s eight-point lead over Trump in that survey.

New York Times Events

Fifty years ago this week, The New York Times Magazine published Milton Friedman’s seminal essay “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits” — a shot heard around the world for American free-market capitalism and the primacy of shareholders. Today, business leaders are responding to rising inequality and environmental risks by rejecting Friedman’s premise and instead emphasizing a commitment to the interests of all stakeholders. Can these interests coexist?

Join us tomorrow at 11 a.m. Eastern as the DealBook team is joined by the corporate governance expert and former Delaware Chief Justice Leo Strine Jr. and the Allbirds co-founder and co-chief executive Joey Zwillinger to discuss. You can R.S.V.P. here.

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