Friendly Fire Saturday: Julie & Mike handicap the NJ races and the VP debate

Can Americans still have a sensible and friendly political discussion across the partisan divide? The

Can Americans still have a sensible and friendly political discussion across the partisan divide? The answer is yes, and we intend to prove it. Julie Roginsky, a Democrat, and Mike DuHaime, a Republican, are consultants who have worked on opposite teams for their entire careers yet have remained friends throughout. Here, they discuss the week’s events with Tom Moran, editorial page editor of The Star-Ledger.

Q. The Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the Oct. 15 debate will be held virtually, and President Trump said he won’t participate. I’m guessing that’s a bluff, since his campaign needs a boost. What do you think?

Julie: I don’t know if it’s a bluff. I do know that Trump’s insistence on debating in person is tantamount to attempted murder, since he is still infected with COVID and will likely still be contagious by next week. I guess it’s not enough that he is a Super Spreader when it comes to Governor Christie and half of the West Wing. He has determined that it’s time to infect Joe Biden as well.

Mike: A virtual debate between two 75-ish white guys would be so comedically disastrous that it would be peak 2020. “Can you hear me? I can’t turn my mic on. What?” Seriously, Trump should participate. He’s behind in the polls. He needs Biden to mess up in a big moment. There are no leaked emails or Jim Comey reports coming, so debates are his best chances to make up ground.

Q. After returning from the hospital, Trump said he feels great, that his treatment amounted to a “cure,” and that Americans should not be “afraid” of getting sick from it. Help us understand what he’s doing, please.

Julie: I don’t have the requisite psychiatric training to help you understand what he is doing. I do know that over 200,000 Americans have died from COVID and many others continue to fall ill and die from it every day. But since Donald Trump is all about Donald Trump, I suppose he doesn’t think it’s relevant that this is happening to others, as long as he is OK. For the record, he received highly experimental treatment that is not available to other Americans and it is not at all clear that he is out of the woods yet. What is clear is that he is hopped up on ‘roids and tweeting nonsense that will get more of his supporters killed.

Mike: Trump is trying to project strength. Clearly no one has told him it’s coming off as completely out of touch instead. I’m angered by his irresponsibility. He’s shown no concern for the health and safety of White House staff, Secret Service, supporters, advisors or friends. If he shows no concern for those who’ve dedicated their lives to his success, how can we expect empathy in any situation? A good boss truly cares about his or her co-workers. A good leader, whether an elected official, a teacher, CEO, coach, or pastor leads by example. He’s proven incapable of doing so throughout the biggest crisis facing his presidency.

Q. At the vice-presidential debate, what stood out to you, other than the fly on Mike Pence’s head.

Julie: Every single woman in the workplace can relate to this debate. The woman comes prepared for the presentation, PowerPoint and backup documents in hand. The man strolls in late, meanders off-topic for a while, interrupts the woman when she tries to refocus the meeting and then, when he finally notices that she is speaking, mansplains to her that she doesn’t know what she is talking about. I’m not sure who told Mike Pence that this was a good strategy, but unless it was Mother, I suspect a woman did not lead his debate prep.

Mike: It was a civil but robust debate, more of what we have come to expect as acceptable modern political warfare. Pence is an excellent and underrated debater due to his understated and relatively polite demeanor. Harris won the VP nomination in large part by crushing Biden in the first primary debate. They were both strong, showed command of the issues and prosecuted their cases well.

Q. If Republicans fill the seat vacated by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, some Democrats want to expand the size of the Court in retaliation, if Biden wins. Harris dodged a question about that during the debate. Should Biden answer it?

Julie: I don’t think court packing is exactly lighting this campaign on fire for either side. If Democrats want to play by McConnell rules when they take control of Congress, they should immediately move to grant statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, which they can do with a simple majority vote.

Mike: Biden should answer. He’s running for president. While his strategy of saying absolutely nothing of consequence and barely campaigning is working, it’s fair to think he would actually answer a pertinent question.

Q. Here in New Jersey, Democrats running for Congress are ahead in 11 of the 12 districts, the exception being Rep. Chris Smith in the 4th, but several races are close. Where do you see Republicans having their best shot?

Julie: Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) has the best shot to keep his seat, simply because of the demographics of the district. The problem for him and someone like Sen. Tom Kean, who is running against Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-7th), is that voters hate contortionists. When you throw away everything you’ve stood for your entire career to kowtow to Donald Trump, no one believes that you deserve to win because no one believes that you are genuine about any of your convictions. Lindsey Graham is facing this phenomenon in South Carolina at the moment. Let that be a lesson to situational opportunists everywhere.

Mike: The best pickup chance is Tom Kean. He’s raising money and has won for 20 years in the Democrat-leaning Union County portion of that district and will run up numbers in the more conservative western portion. There will be plenty of Biden-Kean voters. Van Drew has a good shot in the southernmost district in the state. As Julie says, that’s the second-most pro-Trump district in the state. David Richter is running a close race against Andy Kim (D-3rd, Burlington and Ocean counties). There’s a large swath of reliable GOP voters in Ocean County that should help him. They all need Trump to run close in their districts to have a shot though.

Q. Finally, with Gov. Christie is in the hospital, I was encouraged to see NJ Spotlight report that care for Covid-19 is improving, with the portion requiring ventilators dropping from 25 percent to 10 percent. Still, it’s scary. What are your thoughts?

Julie: What is scary is that we have a president who keeps assuring everyone that COVID has a cure, that it is nothing to fear and that we will have a vaccine in the next several weeks. Someone needs to ask Governor Christie if he agrees with that assessment, not to entrap him politically but because it’s important for people in Trump’s inner circle to discuss their own experiences with this horrific pandemic to counter the disinformation that their supporters might be hearing.

Mike: I have spoken to Gov. Christie every day this week. He is in good spirits and appreciates everyone’s prayers and good wishes. Despite a few recent clusters, the trends here have been positive for many months. New cases are down more than 85% from their peak. More importantly, the seriousness seems lessened, or treatment is better because hospitalizations and ICU patients are down even more, about 95% each. Ventilator use dropping is another good sign. Let’s all be smart, wear masks, social distance, keep loosening business restrictions and get more kids back to sports and school.

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