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[00:00:08]

Hello and welcome to The Stand with Eamon Dunphy. The stand is proudly supported by Tesco at Tesco, our exclusive house for over sixty fives. Family carers and extremely medically vulnerable customers are every weekday, Monday to Friday, up to nine a.m. Health care and emergency services have priority access at all other times now, more than ever, every little helps. Now there are just over 70 days left before what many people believe is the most important presidential election in American history.

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Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee and he made his acceptance speech last night. And it was the culmination of four days when the Democrats had a convention. It was a virtual convention and much of it done. It was Zoome, the stars of the Democratic Party, past presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Michelle Obama also spoke all testifying to Joe Biden's credentials and in particular, former President Obama launching a scathing attack on the president, Donald Trump. We're joined now from Washington.

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By now, it's damage nine is the associate editor of The Hill newspaper and that newspaper's White House columnist. This is a very important week for the Democrats. Now, how did that how did it go?

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It went as well as they could reasonably expect. I think Joe Biden had a challenge to overcome here, which was unavoidable. And that was the virtual nature of the convention, none of the usual cheering crowds and glitz and balloon drops and all of that, all of that made impossible by the coronavirus and the precautions around it. And Biden had the additional challenge that if he himself had committed any kind of misstep that would undoubtedly have been seized upon by the Trump campaign.

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The president and his allies have been suggesting for some months now that Mr Biden lacks mental acuity, to put it politely, yes. So, in fact, Biden's speech was very powerful and effective and was, I think, widely hailed as such and a very sort of vigorous performance. And the convention as a whole was at the very least spared any kind of any serious technical mess up that might have detracted from its impact. Not the TV ratings, as far as we can see, are dying from normal conventions, but by about 40 percent.

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I understand. Yeah, that's right. For the broadcast TV networks know the Biden campaign has been talking about the fact that obviously digital streaming has increased and all of that, but there doesn't really seem any doubt that the overall viewing figures are dying. And we'll have to see what impact that has on the traditional polling bounce that nominees expect from conventions.

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Now, in the course of his speech, Biden did not mention by name at Donald Trump yet. And this speech was seen to be extremely competent and the best he has performed on a public stage in recent memory, actually.

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Yeah, I would say that's that's right. It was a bit of a throwback to to the Joe Biden of five or ten years ago. Biden, I think it's worth noting, Ne'eman, because you and I have been haven't been shy about pointing out his vulnerabilities. Biden also, to his credit, has a tendency to sometimes over perform expectations. I remember both times when he was debating as a vice presidential nominee himself and the first time Democrats were panicking that he was going to be condescending or have some awful moment with Sarah Palin.

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And the second time, they were worried that Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's vice presidential nominee, was going to kind of wipe the floor with him. And Biden held his own. Both times there avoided any awkwardness with people and in my opinion, got the better of Paul Ryan in that vice presidential debate. So he can actually be there sometimes to the big moments. And I think we saw that on Thursday evening again.

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Yes. And it's worth recalling that Ryan was a formidable. And a smart, sharp Republican and a very senior senator, I think that the leader in the Senate just to and that's very relevant, of course, when we come to his three debates with Donald Trump. But to go back to this week, one of the other features of this convention was the appearance of Bernie Sanders supporting it wholeheartedly. It seems that Joe Biden also Alexandrea or Cassio Cortez, the famous AOC, she also had a slot in which she endorsed Biden.

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So the idea that the party will fully get behind this candidacy, as opposed to Sanders lukewarm at best reaction to Hillary Clinton, that's an encouraging sign for Democrats. Yes, very much so. In 2016, the enmity between the Clinton and Sanders camps was marked, I would say, and the 2016 convention was very much affected by those tensions. And in fact, the head of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had to resign on the eve of that 2016 convention after emails were leaked showing that the DNC had basically put a thumb on the scales to help Hillary Clinton that year.

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Yes, there was really nothing comparable to that this year. Bernie Sanders had had quite a starring role at the convention, not only in his speech, but in showing up in other video presentations to Preus, Biden and Sanders. You know that the personal is political, as they say. And in many ways, even Sanders believes that that Biden was one of the few people in the United States Senate who took Sanders seriously even before twenty sixteen. Sanders, because he's a lefty, had been sort of dismissed as a as a as a crank for years.

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And when Biden was a senator, Sanders got on well with him, apparently. And that seems to have percolated through to to this year's convention. So that apparent unity between the left of the more moderate wing of the party, as represented by Biden, is certainly an asset and certainly something that will be, I think, a relief to Democrats, given the contrast that opposes the favorable contrast from their perspective.

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And, of course, it's vital to get the vote out as well, isn't it? And getting the vote out and we'll come to that later in a conversation is going to be a critical factor in November. The other feature of the convention that was striking was there was a kind of video presentation focusing on Joe Biden's very good relationship with the late John McCain, who ran for the Republicans, of course, not long ago. He's a revered figure, a war hero, and someone that Trump gratuitously insulted when he began campaigning for the Republican nomination.

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But that relationship between someone who was quite a conservative Republican and Biden was very revealing of Biden's ability to reach across the aisle.

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Yeah, that's right.

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And in that video presentation, John McCain's widow, Cindy McCain, really paid tribute to the warmth between them. Biden has always made a virtue of his ability to get along with people on the other in the other party and during the primary. I think that was something that was attempted to be used against him by people of his left, suggesting that he has a sort of unrealistic view of the capacity for compromise right now when America is such a polarized country.

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Yeah, and also by Kamala Kamala Harris when she remarked on his closeness to two significant segregationists in his own party.

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I think either one of them in his own party won in the Republican Party and how fondly he recalled them. And of course, she made a point of that at the time.

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Yes, she did. The names of the two senators and the party affiliations escapes me now. But Biden had basically talked about those guys who were clear segregationists and racists in in sort of not. I mean, we have to be clear, he wasn't talking about the racism in warm terms. He was talking about them personally in warm terms.

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And Harris did indeed make use of that and suggested that was really sort of distasteful. And then. Come on, and I'm sure many people would agree with her. The flip side of the more positive side of that attitude of Bidens is something like the McCain example. Yes. Where there is a sort of innate decency about Biden, I would say. And I would also say that in the forthcoming election, where there are still centrists or moderates or people who would be prepared to vote for the person or the policy rather than along strictly party lines.

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And I feel that the convention was fairly diligent about trying to appeal to those people by not only the McCain video, but, for example, Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, spoke on Biden's behalf and there were other less well known Republicans who who did the same. So really trying to appeal to to those centrists and have some support from them, which could be very important in the most crucial states in this election.

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Yes, I'm one of those states is Ohio, I think. And the governor of Ohio is a Republican and I believe is in office of former former governor.

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He's not in office anymore. But he was until recently, John Kasich appeared convention and and praised Biden and said that he would vote for him because he felt he had a personal responsibility to the country. Kasich did rather them to the Republican.

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Now, I thought the most effective speech I saw was Barack Obama. There is a convention in America that you don't criticize or comment on your successor. And despite many people wanting him to, Obama has abided by that convention. But this week and what I thought was a very reasoned, calm and cool and hatchet job, he he went for Trump, but without any histrionics. It was cold at clear and reasoned argument that this man is not fit to be president of the United States.

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How did it go down with you and how did it go down in America? Well, I mean, I thought it was as you did. I thought it was an extremely effective speech. I mean, Obama is, in my opinion, the best orator of his generation in American politics, at least. And he has the capacity, even with an audience, to communicate incredibly effectively. The most striking thing about it was, I think, not just the act of attacking Trump, which you mentioned, but the basis on which he did.

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So, yeah, he really presented Donald Trump as a threat to American democracy, to a threat to the republic, in a way. And you and I have spoken about this before him and about Trump's capacity to try to, for example, make the Justice Department do his bidding or to erode the independence of the judiciary or to seem to really have honestly no no scruple at all, really, as to what he wants to wants to do or is willing to do.

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And Obama made that point and talked about the idea that there that that the Trump team would be willing to sort of hollow out American democracy if wish to, if it if it believes that that was in the circus of Donald Trump when in reality. So it was a very powerful speech. It was indeed.

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And that point they were made. And it brings me to my next real question, because while all of this was going on, Trump was refusing to commit to accept the results of the election and he refused to commit to leaving office. And within the last 24 hours, one of his surrogates has also been asked and he also has refused to accept that if he loses the election, he won't necessarily go his. He's been laying the groundwork for this by railing against and mail in ballots and mail in voting and talking about how corrupt that can be.

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And there is a problem, which I hope you explain to us now with the Postal Service in the United States a problem of logistics, really, that there's only seventy one or two days to go. So he is leaving town pretty strong markers about the possibility that he's not going to accept this result. He is really questioning the legitimacy of the election in a big way, and that is obviously worrisome not just to Democrats, but to anyone who really cares about about norms and about the rule of law.

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He has been doing that for a long time. I know some people just contend that it is a way to save face if he is defeated. In other words, that if he were clearly beaten and the election that he would go, but he would basically say it was stolen from others have a more ominous view than that and believe he would actively contest the results of the election or contend that it was illegitimate, illegitimate in some way. Either option is pretty worrisome.

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I mean, even even the first one raises, I think, the specter of what his supporters would do if he were constantly sort of throwing a match onto petrol about an illegitimate election.

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The issue of the US Postal Service is a somewhat complicated one, but it can be broken, broken down as the suspicion that a person who is a Trump fundraiser is no the effective head of the Postal Service. That person had cancelled over time, had removed sorting machines from some locations and had done a number of other things that Democrats argued were intended to frustrate and thwart mail in voting. The person in question are, Dejoy argues, that or has argued that the Postal Service loses vast amounts of money and that these moves are made for the purposes of efficiency.

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There has now been a promise to pause the measures like the removal of sorting machines, but not to, as far as I understand it, to return the sorting machines that have previously been removed. The danger in all of this is that basically people either don't receive their ballots in time to return them or people who return them by mail do not get them delivered in time for them to be counted. That is the danger, even though the there is a question of exactly how much impact this will have.

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There's also a massive question, if I'm reading the opinion polls correctly, about how many people you wouldn't have here or in the UK or anywhere in Europe that I know of, only about 40 percent of people are going to vote in person. And it seems to me I'd have declared they're going to vote in person. And of course, with the coronavirus spreading, particularly in America, that number might be down because it's going to be dangerous. And if you've got to get in a long line, as people probably will have to do those dangers exacerbated.

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Yeah, I mean, I don't think there's any doubt at all that the voting by mail will be, excuse me, a bigger thing this year. I don't have the figures in front of me. Exactly. I thought it was around. Twenty five percent of people voted by mail last time around.

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And of course, you're talking about many, many, many millions of ballots, but everyone expects there to be an increase this year. It is a curious thing the way Trump has gone after Meulen voting, because traditionally it has not been a method of voting. This has favored one party or another. And there are some Republicans who are very concerned that Trump, by making these attacks, will actually depress his own vote or the Republican vote. If you look at a state like Florida, for example, which has a lot of retirees and has been always a very close state in recent years, Donald Trump actually won there four years ago.

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If people who support him get discouraged from voting by mail, will they be willing to show up in person at the polls? I mean, Florida, sadly, is still badly affected by the coronavirus, one of the four or five states worst affected right now.

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So it's it's a it's a curious strategy, if we can call it a strategy that Trump has adopted. Yes.

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And something that concerns the Democrats to the point where Michelle Obama wore a necklace with the word vote on it. And the emphasis throughout the four days was to urge people. To go out and to vote now next week, Trump has decided to launch his own campaign from the White House, which is something that has never been done before. I want to ask you about that, but also about the degree to which Colin Powell and John Kasich, notwithstanding the degree to which the Republican Party is sticking with this clearly rogue, a president who is endangering the country in so many ways, who's madcap approach to the pandemic, has cost so many lives.

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Is the Republican Party sort of tied to him for good or ill? It that must be a major concern for. Republicans who don't like the cut of his jib. Mhm. Yeah, I think that Republican elected officials are overwhelmingly tied to him. And the secondary point is that he continues to be extremely popular with Republican voters, even as polls show his approval rating fairly low and show him losing in head to head matchups with Biden. The Republicans who are still loyal to Trump and there are many of them, roll their eyes at some of the people that we mentioned.

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Colin Powell, for example, has supported every Democrat for the presidency since Barack Obama.

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I remember being at an Obama rally in 2000 and he and David Axelrod come into the press excited because Powell had come out to endorse Obama. So the Republicans just don't think any more of people like Colin Powell as Republicans. The people who have criticized Trump tend to be people who are on their way out of office or in the case of one congressman, Justin Amash, or a man who left the Republican Party and became an independent, a protest in protest of Trump, the overall Republican Party.

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It continues to march in lockstep with Trump. And we will see that obviously next week at the Republican National Convention. And yes, indeed, Trump has said he will accept the official nomination of the party at the White House. That is controversial because it is essentially using the White House as a specifically party, political or partisan political prop, really. And that has been frowned upon previously. But perhaps not surprisingly, Mr. Trump doesn't care too much about that.

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Now, yesterday, something remarkable happened at Trump's and briefly chief of staff in the White House when he was first elected and someone who was very active in his 2016 campaign, Steve Bannon, was arrested and charged in what he was charged with, fraud and money laundering. And because he formed, he and associates formed We Build the Wall. This is the famous wall that a crowd funding thing they organized to fund. We build the wall campaign. They established a fund in 2018.

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And according to the prosecutors, they have plundered some of the money. Mr. Bannon was arrested in Connecticut on one hundred and fifty foot yacht owned by a Chinese billionaire. And we saw pictures of him going in and out of court. He came out of court like a conquering hero, taking off his mask and saluting the throng. So what? This is like a bad movie. And what reaction has there been in the United States? It was released on five million dollars bail, forbidden to leave the country or indeed to get back on any yachts.

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It's an extraordinary I mean, I'm laughing, but because of the sort of luridness, often because Barnum is such a kind of eccentric figure. But I mean, the the actual specifics of this case are pretty tawdry. And I will say for the purposes of clarity, that Steve Bannon, of course, pleaded not guilty in that court appearance that you're referring to and denies wrongdoing and is claiming that this is all a means to smear people who want the wall built.

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The short version of what happened is another person, a person who had been a member of the US Air Force, launched a crowdfunding thing.

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Basically, whenever it became apparent that Trump was not going to get money from Congress to build his wall, this guy launched a private effort to to fund the building of a wall. At a certain point later, Bannon came on board. Ultimately, about twenty five million dollars were collected from, you know, individuals, so-called ordinary people, although that's not a phrase I like, but private citizens and money. And the allegation is that the veteran who I mentioned was paid a salary secretly having claimed that he would not take a salary.

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And Bannon himself used nearly one million dollars of this money to fund his personal expenses, including travel and things of that nature. Yes. It really there's a pattern here, isn't there? And the Paul Manafort, who was briefly at the chair of the election campaign in 2016 for Donald Trump, is now in prison. And Michael Cohen, who was his personal lawyer and where is he? He's in prison. And Mike Flynn, the general who was meeting with the Russians and pleaded guilty and the attorney general and interfered in that case.

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Trump interfered in that case. And Flynn is still at large. There are an awful lot of people and there are more. But I'll stop there. An awful lot of people who are guilty of felonies or have been charged with felonies and among Mr. Trump's associates.

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Yes, I mean, it's an extraordinary record when you look at us.

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I mean, there are the people that you mentioned, Roger Stone, who you and I have spoken about before, you know, Roger the Dodger, all these people who have fallen afoul of the law in some way.

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I mean, it's just it is remarkable to me and I don't want this to sound like too partisan a point, but the fact that these people around Donald Trump have been either charged or convicted and in some cases pardoned by him, and yet he still retains the support of a party that would characterize itself as being stern on law and order. Indeed, the phrase law and order has become a rallying cry that Trump himself has used, typically trying to contrast himself with the people protesting for racial justice.

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All the while with this extraordinary record of people close to him being being charged or prosecuted or arrested. It's quite amazing.

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And final question now. There was a CNN opinion poll which you told me about when we were talking during the week, which is alarming for people who don't want Trump to be re-elected. And it showed the gap between he and Biden down to four percent nationally and in the swing states, which are critical, of course, down to one percent. And that we have. Tell me about that finally so we can end on an optimistic note.

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Well, I mean, that CNN poll caused a big stir. And, of course, part of the reason was the simple closeness of the race. I mean, a one percentage point difference across the swing states would mean that the election was was anybody's really. The thing to stress, I suppose, is that that pool is a bit of an outlier. I mean, most polls have Biden up by more than that. But I mean, I you know, there are people who are very reluctant to trust polls after 2016.

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We could have a whole other conversation about that where they were. Yes. What is in them, where they weren't. But that CNN poll certainly sent a bit of a shock waves through Democratic ranks at least.

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OK, give us all something to think about over the weekend. Thank you very much indeed for joining us. From Washington, Stanage associate editor of The Hill and the White House columnist for that newspaper. And we're grateful always to Nile to you for listening and very grateful to our sponsors, Tesco.

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And that's all we have time for now. We'll talk to you soon.