The Trump Debate Fallout

Senate Republicans do the old dance around Trump and racism, while Biden presses his case in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Plus, a Q. and A. with Jim Rutenberg about his explosive voter-suppression investigation. It’s Thursday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

Where things stand

President Trump’s debate performance on Tuesday has done nothing to quiet the fears among his opponents that he may try to suppress the true outcome of the election, as he stopped barely short of encouraging his supporters to take up arms on his behalf.

“Proud Boys — stand back and stand by,” he said in the most inflammatory moment of the debate, apparently offering a nod to a far-right extremist group. Later in the debate, he refused to say that he would accept the election’s official results as legitimate.

Senate Republicans sought to distance themselves from the “Proud Boys” comment, even as they essentially pleaded with the president to walk it back. Tim Scott, the chamber’s only Black Republican, said he thought Trump had probably “misspoke,” and said “he should correct it.”

Trump eventually gave reporters the answer senators were looking for, in a pattern that has grown familiar: He reluctantly walked back comments seeming to defend or endorse extremists only after a full news cycle had played out.

“I don’t know who the Proud Boys are,” he said Wednesday as he left the White House. “I can only say they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work.”

As my colleague Lisa Lerer wrote in yesterday morning’s newsletter, the big loser of the debate was you — all of us, really — the viewers of that chaotic, painful spectacle. But if there was a winner Tuesday night, it was clearly Joe Biden, at least according to a batch of snap polls conducted after the event.

CNN’s poll found that by roughly two to one, those who had watched (a group whose makeup included slightly more Democrats than Republicans) saw Biden as the winner.

Women and people of color both started out the evening expecting Biden to outperform Trump, and after the debate they saw him as the winner with about the same frequency.

But for white voters and male voters, groups considerably more inclined to see the president favorably, it was a different story. Those voters started the night about evenly split on whom they expected to win. But by the end of the debate, less than one-third of either group said the president had won.

Biden was quickly back on the trail yesterday, using a train tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania — two battlegrounds where he has built a slight but consistent polling lead — to pin a target on areas Trump won four years ago.

In Biden’s busiest day of campaigning in months, he began with a speech at the Amtrak station in Cleveland, flanked by a teacher whose husband had worked at the General Motors plant in rural Lordstown, Ohio, before it closed.

Trump headed to Minnesota yesterday, and he’s planning to hold two large outdoor rallies in Wisconsin this weekend — even though the White House coronavirus task force recently put Wisconsin on a list of “red zone” states, warning that until case rates went down, strict social distancing should be embraced “to the maximal degree possible.”

Photo of the day

Joe Biden left Cleveland during his train tour yesterday.

Jim Rutenberg discusses his investigation into the G.O.P.’s long history of vote suppression.

If you haven’t yet seen Jim Rutenberg’s thorough, powerfully written New York Times Magazine investigation into the Republican Party’s efforts to suppress voting and strike people from voter rolls across the country, it’s worth reading right now.

Or you can bookmark this link and save it for when you have time for a lengthy weekend read. In the meantime, you can find a quick recap here, with three big takeaways from the investigation.

Read on for our interview with Jim about what he learned while reporting the story.

Hi Jim. For this investigation — which is pretty devastating — you spoke to over 100 people and pored through thousands of pages of documents. Voter suppression is a topic you’ve covered a lot over the years, but how long did you spend on this article in particular? And did you have any revelatory breakthroughs in the process you can tell readers about?

I basically spent five months on this story, four of them pretty much full time, just diving into court records and government documents and talking to people — and talking and talking and talking.

What most surprised me was the continuity of the players and the breadth of the effort to prove that voter fraud is so widespread that it’s a threat to the fabric of the democracy when it simply is not. Everywhere I looked, there was someone who was involved in some other, earlier effort involved in pushing this voter-fraud idea to gain partisan advantage, from the pre-Trump era.

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