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SMERCONISH

Amazon Was Primed For A Pandemic; Has The Pandemic Accelerated Societal Trends?; SCOTUS Rejects COVID Limits On NY Houses Of Worship; Interview With Former Congressman John Delaney (D-MD); Interview With Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Political Reporter Patricia Murphy. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired November 28, 2020 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Amazon was primed for a pandemic. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Yesterday was so-called Black Friday, which I always thought was the day when retailers historically moved from the red to the black, from deficit to profitability. There's another explanation. It originated here in Philadelphia when, in 1961, police first used the term to refer to heavy pedestrian and vehicular traffic the day after Thanksgiving.

Regardless, amidst a pandemic, nothing could seem like a more dated concept than profitability of brick and mortar storefronts. The Centers for Disease Control's list of higher risk activities for spreading COVID-19 includes, quote, "Going shopping in crowded stores just before, on or after Thanksgiving."

No wonder then that those businesses which thrive these days are online. For Black Friday alone, preliminary data from Adobe Analytics put yesterday's online sales on pace to amount to between $8.9 billion and $9.6 billion. That would be an increase of between 20 percent and 29 percent from last year and Amazon is not the only retailer benefiting from an online boom.

The National Retail Federation expects that sales from online and other non-stores will increase between 20 percent and 30 percent to between $202 billion and $218 billion, up from $168 billion last year.

How telling that today's front-page headline in "The New York Times" is this, "Amazon Hires At Record Clip: 1,400 Per Day." The story reports that Amazon added 427,300 employees between January and October, pushing its workforce to more than 1.2 million people globally. That's up more than 50 percent from a year ago.

For Amazon, the pandemic has clearly been good for business, but is Amazon's success good for the rest of us? If this Black Friday has revealed anything it's that Amazon is without equal in e-commerce, they're very dominant, have very little competition. According to my next guest, there are proportionately more American households that belong to Amazon Prime than will decorate a Christmas tree, own a pet, vote in elections, belong to a house of worship or even own a gun. Due to the pandemic, we've just gone through years of change in just a matter of months. That's the observation of Scott Galloway in a brand- new book. In it, he argues that the pandemic has not been an agent of change, but an accelerant of trends already underway.

Galloway is one of the most sought-after experts on the impact of COVID in the future of our economic and social world. He's a serial entrepreneur, professor at NYU Stern School of Business, podcaster and best-selling author now of "Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity." This is Professor Scott Galloway. Years of change in a matter of months. Is that good or bad news, professor?

SCOTT GALLOWAY, PROFESSOR OF MARKETING, NYU STERN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: Michael, I think the answer is yes. You referenced Amazon. It depends on which side of the coin you're on. If you're in e-commerce where we've seen loosely it's taken us 20 years to get to 18 percent of all retail and then in eight weeks, we went to 28 percent. We had a decade of growth in just -- decade of acceleration in just eight weeks.

If you're an online grocery, we've seen six years of acceleration. Working from home has leapt a decade in just two weeks, but at the same time, if you make less than $40,000, 40 percent of those people have had job interruptions and only 10 percent can work from home. So we've seen acceleration of both income inequality where some dysfunctional features in our economy have become dystopian, but if you're on the right side of this in remote work and anything around e- commerce, it's never been a better time.

So, this is a K-shaped recovery. The best of times, the worst of times depending on if you were headed up, now you're going like this, headed down, now you're headed like this.

SMERCONISH: So, the book is tremendous. Offered great insight. I hope you take this as a compliment. It was sort of the 2020 version for me of Megatrends that I read many, many years ago talking about what's to come in the future, but the key word is not "change," as much as it is "acceleration." Explain.

GALLOWAY: Well, thanks very much, Michael. I'm sincere. That means a lot coming from you. Many of these trends were already in place. So if you look at the number of kids living at home with their parents, for the first time in our history, we now have people the age of 30 not doing as well as their parents were at 30 and more people are moving back in and then that accelerated almost a decade. Now there are more young people between the ages of 18 and 30 living at home than living on their own.

Amazon took 25 years to get to half a million employees. It's now -- it's added a half a million in 12 months.

[09:05:00]

Apple took 42 years to get to $1 trillion in market capitalization. It went from $1 trillion to $2 trillion in just 20 weeks. Take any trend in society and in the business sector, take it out 10 years and chances are we're there right now. This has literally reached into the future and pulled it -- pulled it forward for us, both good and bad.

SMERCONISH: Professor, there's a graph that I showed at the outset. I want to put it back on the screen. I don't know if you have a return monitor, but it shows the share of U.S. households that are Amazon Prime members in comparison to those decorating a Christmas tree, owning a pet, voting in the 2018 election, member of a church or synagogue or own a gun. If you had shown me all of those with the exception of Amazon, I would have put them somewhere in the middle, not at the extreme. Eighty-two percent of American households? That's stunning.

GALLOWAY: Yes. Amazon, if you think about -- the marketplace loves kind of monogamous, recurring revenue relationships and Amazon was in a transactional business called retail and decided to enter into a recurring revenue bundle, a subscription service and more people have a relationship with Amazon than I think any consumer company in history.

We get worried when a cable company has 20 or 25 percent market share. We're uncomfortable with any utility having more than 10 or 15 percent market share. This is a company that has 82 percent of American households pay Amazon a yearly fee, have Amazon Prime cable, get 24- or 48-hour delivery. This is probably the strongest recurring revenue relationship between a company and consumers of anywhere in the world.

Microsoft Office comes close in the corporate world, but nothing matches Amazon. This company was literally invented for the pandemic. E-commerce, AWS and then back-end Amazon fulfillment. Amazon has invested more in their fulfillment to get us stuff at home in the last two years than Walmart's invested in the last 20 years. This is an unstoppable company that was literally invented for a pandemic.

SMERCONISH: OK. And on that score, now headed into the healthcare realm. What will that mean to all of us?

GALLOWAY: Well, it's actually very exciting. There are a lot of silver linings here. If you imagine 99 percent of the people who have contracted, endured and developed the antibodies for the novel coronavirus will have never set into a doctor's office, much less a hospital. So we have $3 trillion that will be dispersed and I would say the key word here, Michael, is the term dispersion, but we'll have 17 percent of our economy dispersed from doctor's offices and hospitals into the home.

Smart cameras, smart phones, delivery, diagnostics. It's no accident Amazon just flipped on their pill pack acquisition and you can now speak to an Amazon pharmacist 24 by 7. We're going to see, for the first time potentially, healthcare costs come tracking down or crashing down.

I think Amazon's going to be the fastest growing healthcare company in the world within two to three years and we're going to see maybe the potential to get off our heels and play defense around healthcare and go onto our toes and have a level of primary care delivered in the home which potentially or ideally could lower costs and dramatically expand affordability. There are -- there'll be some big winners here. Healthcare will be the most disruptive sector in history, what's about to happen to healthcare in the next two years in the United States.

SMERCONISH: At what risk does Amazon operate in a Biden administration with Democratic control of the House, presumably -- we're not sure -- Republican control of the Senate? At what point are they just too big and does antitrust become a real concern?

GALLOWAY: It's a real concern for all of them. There's already a case against Google which I think the Biden-Harris administration will pick up. The shadow of the Biden-Harris administration has already resulted in more change at Facebook and Twitter than we've seen in a long time. They've made huge efforts to try and stop the spread of misinformation around the COVID-19 and I would argue that it's tantamount to teens who have held a great party and their parents are coming home and they're trying to clean up their act.

As it relates to Amazon, it'll be -- it'll be Google, then likely Facebook for antitrust action. I do think it'll happen to Amazon, but not until those two are done. I personally think Jeff Bezos, who's the smartest business in the -- person in the world will likely spin AWS prophylactically and my prediction, Michael, is that in the year 2025, the most valuable company in the world will be a recently spun, independent AWS.

The largest most profitable cloud company in the world would have -- would be a stock that everyone would own. The most profitable -- most valuable company in the world, 2025, Amazon to try and prophylactically stave off antitrust, but antitrust is coming, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Lightning round. Give me just 10 seconds. Word association. They're all dealt with in the book. Here we go. Peloton.

GALLOWAY: Connected. Work out from home. Huge trend.

SMERCONISH: Spotify.

GALLOWAY: Likely acquired by Netflix. Dominates. We wish all media was in our pocket on one app.

SMERCONISH: I'm going to say it the way he says it, meaning Musk. Tesla.

GALLOWAY: The ultimate story stock. In March, was the third most valuable company. Now it's the most valuable, worth more than the other three combined. Never seen anything like it.

[09:10:05]

SMERCONISH: Twitter.

GALLOWAY: Needs to command the space it occupies. A great performing stock should they decide to do away with a part-time CEO, which is ridiculous, and move to a subscription model and potentially partner with CNN to have vertical, proprietary content.

SMERCONISH: Uber. GALLOWAY: A menace to society. Has created a permanent underclass. Use software to circumvent minimum wage laws.

SMERCONISH: Final question. In the book, you say it's the trillion- dollar question, whether tech can disperse our workforce without reducing a culture of innovation and productivity. What's your answer?

GALLOWAY: My answer is our nation needs to return to our proud legacy of antitrust. We suffer from an idolatry of innovators. We've never let companies weaponize our elections, destroy jobs, avoid taxes, depress our teens at the pace these companies have. If you want to oxygenate the economy, the best thing we could do for the economy over the next five to 10 years would be to go through the industries, including tech, ag, big food, big pharma and oxygenate the economy by breaking them up.

SMERCONISH: These are exciting times and so much of what you've written about I think is great news, but I'm also now mindful of the fact that I'm among those earning more than $100,000 who can work from home and that only 10 percent of those earning under $40,000 can do so. So, this income inequality and the disparate ability to function in this economy have never been more evident.

GALLOWAY: One can only hope that we take away from this young people -- only one in three young people think capitalism is working, but what I would argue is they're not really seeing capitalism. When you have privatized gains, capitalism on the way up and then on the way down, you have companies calling for socialism, that's not capitalism, it's cronyism. Capitalism doesn't survive unless it rests on a bed of empathy.

We have flipped the script here, Michael, for the worse and that is we are being very harsh and Darwinistic with individuals and we're being very generous and loving with corporations. There used to be a time in America where capitalism was we had full body contact violence at a corporate level and that violence, if you will, and that competition created the spoils such that we could be a more empathetic people and fund Social Security and take senior poverty from 38 percent to 11 percent.

We've now flipped the script. We talk with pride about keeping restaurants open and our innovators, meanwhile our schools are closed and we're harsh with individuals. Capitalism needs to return to its most productive state and that is where we let corporations duke it out such that we can be more empathetic with people. We're being heavy-handed with the wrong cohort. The lesson we take away from this in terms of how we've screwed up in terms of our response and our stimulus is America should be about protecting people, not companies.

SMERCONISH: Said differently, if you want to ride Pirates of the Caribbean, you ought to have to hoard e-tickets and stand in line. If people want to know what I'm talking about, they'll have to read the book. Thank you, professor.

GALLOWAY: Thank you, Michael. SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish. He did it when he was young. I did it when I was young. Now people write a big check and they skirt the line. Go to my home page, my Facebook page. I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program. What do we have, Catherine? Facebook, "Shopping online is not good for America. When you shop locally, you often then go to local restaurants or other nearby businesses and spend more than intended. Helps the economy."

Susan, I agree with you. In fact, isn't today the day that we're all supposed to patronize small businesses? I'm all for it, but, boy, what a -- what a startling set of revelations in his book as to how encompassing Amazon has become.

Up ahead, what if your COVID-19 vaccine came with a side effect of free stimulus money? Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney is here to explain why he believes paying people to get vaccinated is the answer.

And the Supreme Court this week noted that in New York, the list of essential businesses amidst the pandemic includes things such as acupuncture facilities, campgrounds, garages, but not houses of worship. So should religious services be treated as essential under COVID restrictions? That is today's survey question. Go to Smerconish.com. Tell me what you think.

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[09:15:00]

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SMERCONISH: President Donald Trump's impact on the nation's high court coming into sharp focus. Last spring and summer before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court sided against houses of worship who argued that COVID-19 attendance restriction violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, but it's a new day and it's a new court.

In a five to four ruling, newcomer Justice Amy Coney Barrett sided with her conservative colleagues, backing religious organizations in a dispute over COVID-19 attendance restrictions put in place by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Justice Neil Gorsuch noted in his concurring opinion the following, quote, "It turns out the businesses the governor considers essential include hardware stores, acupuncturists and liquor stores. Bicycle repair shops, certain signage companies, accountants, lawyers and insurance agents are all essential too.

So, at least according to the governor, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians. Who knew public health would so perfectly align with secular convenience?" Joining me now to discuss is the co-founder of the "SCOTUSblog," Amy Howe. Amy, welcome back. In lay terms, what was the issue in this case?

[09:20:02]

AMY HOWE, CO-FOUNDER, SCOTUSBLOG: The issue in this case was whether or not the Supreme Court was going to lift or order New York state to lift these attendance limits on synagogues in New York City and the Roman Catholic churches in Brooklyn pending appeal and the churches and the synagogues argued that they violated their right to freely exercise their religion.

SMERCONISH: This, I guess, is what it looks like when you replace Justice Ginsburg with Justice Coney Barrett.

HOWE: That's right and Justice Ginsburg was, you know, a very reliable member of the court's liberal wing and back over the summer when the court refused to block similar restrictions in California and Nevada, the chief justice, John Roberts, joined the court's four more liberal justices in voting to keep those restrictions in force.

And the chief justice, in one of the opinions in this case, said essentially, you know, the courts are not public health officers and so we are going to defer to the judgments of politicians and the state legislatures, state officials on these questions in a pandemic when things are changing.

And, you know, as you said, you know, Justice Ginsburg passed away in September and so very similar cases, although as even the chief justice pointed out in his opinion in this case, these restrictions are even more stringent than the ones in California and Nevada, but really also a very different court than we had back in the summer.

SMERCONISH: Governor Cuomo thought this was all rather gratuitous. Let's watch. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): It's irrelevant from any practical impact because the zone that they were talking about has already been moot. It expired last week. So, I think this was really just an opportunity for the court to express its philosophy and politics. It doesn't have any practical effect.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Amy Howe, is he correct?

HOWE: Well, that is certainly the argument that the state made and that was the ground on which the chief justice dissented in this case. The chief justice said, you know, look, these restrictions are more stringent than the ones that we left in place in California and Nevada. There may be something to the argument that they are unconstitutional, but we shouldn't decide this right now because the restrictions aren't in place. And the majority in this case, the five conservative justices, Alito, Thomas, Barrett, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, said, you know, this is something that can change very quickly, COVID is getting worse again, the governor could come along and reimpose these at any time, we'd have to relitigate this and so we're going to go ahead and say that the restrictions can't be applied to these synagogues and these churches and Justice Brett Kavanaugh actually said in his concurrent opinion, if they're not in force, it doesn't really matter if we say that they can't enforce them.

SMERCONISH: This was a per curiam opinion by the court, unsigned, but we think we know who wrote it, right? Who do you think wrote it?

HOWE: Oh, this is a fun guessing game that we've all been playing since late Wednesday night, early Thursday morning. You know, I think I some of us, including me, think that perhaps it is Justice Barrett. That this was her first opinion on the Supreme Court. You know, it is a very ...

SMERCONISH: Right.

HOWE: The majority opinion is a very sort of measured opinion. It just kind of sets things out. You know, it doesn't really read like a Thomas or an Alito opinion, but, you know, we may not know, we may never know who wrote it.

SMERCONISH: Final question. Big picture, what can you -- read these tea leaves because you pay such close attention. What do you take away from this case that tells us about how the court will operate with Justice Coney Barrett now on the bench? I'm particularly interested in your thoughts on Chief Justice Roberts.

HOWE: Yes. I mean, his was probably the most interesting opinion. You know, he was not actually with the liberals in this case necessarily on the merits. He took pains to say that this is a case in which he was kind of skeptical about these restrictions, but he didn't think that the court should decide the case because the restrictions were no longer in place.

There was not necessarily a lot of daylight between the chief justice and Justice Kavanaugh and I think that that is a pattern we could see in a lot of cases in the years to come, but at the same time, he was not necessarily as willing to go as far as Justice Kavanaugh, but at the same time, he wasn't in with the liberals.

[09:25:00]

He was kind of searching for a middle ground and then, you know, you had the other, more conservative justices who were ready to go ahead and say, you know, the state can't impose these restrictions. So this could be sort of a glimpse into the future of the Supreme Court as far as how the lineup's going to look in years to come.

SMERCONISH: Maybe the new Kennedy. Maybe the new Kennedy. Thank you, Amy ...

HOWE: Yes. I mean, and one other thing is ...

SMERCONISH: Yes.

HOWE: OK. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: No. Say it.

HOWE: Oh, one other thing that was also very interesting in the chief justice's opinion was that he really wanted to try and play a little bit of a peacemaker.

SMERCONISH: Right.

HOWE: He sort of called out Justice Gorsuch who wanted to make sure that the chief justice said that he thought that the court's liberal colleagues were acting in just as good of faith as the conservative ones, you know, that they may see things differently, but they are acting in good faith, they're just reading the constitution differently, you know, they want what's best during the pandemic and for religious institutions as well.

You know, perhaps trying to broker some goodwill on the court and maybe also for the -- you know, it's something that he probably thought the country needed to hear on the whole as well.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Amy. Appreciate your time.

HOWE: Thanks (ph) so much for having me on. Great to talk to you.

SMERCONISH: What are you saying via my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages? I think this comes from Facebook. "Last time I went to a liquor store. I wasn't there for 45 to 90 minutes singing and praying out loud." Really? That's what I do. I want to remind you, go to my website at Smerconish.com and answer this week's survey question. Should religious services be treated as essential under COVID restrictions?

Up ahead, the argument by two incumbent GOP senators in the Georgia runoff is a bit confusing. How can their seats be crucial to prevent president-elect Joe Biden from imposing his liberal agenda if they agree with President Trump's claim that he won re-election?

And a COVID vaccine on the horizon, yet only about half of Americans say they'd be willing to take one when released. How to resolve that? Former presidential candidate and congressman John Delaney says tie it to a stimulus payment which would also solve that problem. He's here to explain.

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[09:31:30]

SMERCONISH: COVID has caused two crises in America at once. The health one as well as the economic. My next guest has offered up a solution to connect and perhaps solve both. In an essay in "The Washington Post" former Maryland Congressman John Delaney who also ran for president this cycle writes, "Pay Americans to take a coronavirus vaccine." He joins me now, OK. Congressman, make the case.

FORMER REP. JOHN DELANEY (D-MD): So, the case is very straightforward, Michael. The most important thing for us to do at this moment in time is to get 75 percent of the American people vaccinated with the three and soon to probably be four or five vaccines that will be available starting, you know, the end of this year, early next year.

And right now, only about 58 percent of the American people say they will take the vaccine. So, what I think we need to do is create an incentive to get that number up to 75 percent as quickly as possible.

That will save lives. That will get our economy back much sooner. And the way to do that is to tie it to a stimulus plan where we give the American people $1,500 which they should have had already, if we had done a relief bill, and if they take the vaccine. So it's a very straightforward approach.

SMERCONISH: Some will say -- some will say, why reward the irresponsible among us?

DELANEY: You know, that's kind of an ideological response. And this is a practical solution, right? This pandemic -- the tragedy of this pandemic, 250,000 -- more than 250,000 Americans have lost their lives. Over 1,000 a day. They estimate that half of the small businesses in this country won't up again, or reopen.

The depths of this tragedy are extraordinary. So, what we need is practical solutions to get this behind us and end this pandemic. And the vaccines will do it.

But the existence of vaccines actually doesn't do it. What does it is people actually being vaccinated. And this solution is designed to get more people vaccinated.

Around the world, these kinds of techniques have been used. In India they provided incentives for people to get their kids vaccinated. And the vaccination rates went up 600 percent.

SMERCONISH: I think it's how you frame the issue and how you ask the question, and I'm reminded of Cass Sunstein who wrote a book called "Nudged." And I think it was in the context of organ donation and how you ask people whether they will be a donor, versus is it good for society.

And what I mean, Congressman, is this, if you ask people the question of, should we pay those who will get a vaccine? My hunch is many will say no. But if you switch it and instead you say, should any stimulus monies be paid to people who refuse to get vaccinated? I think it would be a hell no.

DELANEY: Right. Well -- and that's the thing. I mean -- and I think you're right, how this is framed, how this is structured matters. And we have to remember, at its core, this is a stimulus program. And I think most would agree that we should have done another relief bill by now.

One of the most popular parts of the last stimulus program was the direct cash payments. So, again, this is really direct cash payments. It is tied to people doing something that all of the experts agree they should do, which is to get vaccinated. And it will -- it will save lives. And that's the most important -- if we get to 75 percent vaccination rate three months sooner, at the rate we're going, that could be 90,000 lives that are saved.

[09:35:08]

That's why this is so important.

SMERCONISH: I paid attention to the comments that were appended to the essay that you wrote in "The Washington Post." And one was the idea that this puts undue pressure on people of less economic means.

In other words, that there are people among us in all levels of income, who for whatever reason don't want to get vaccinated. But, now, when all of a sudden, we're saying we're going to pay to you get the vaccination, it brings pressure to bear that otherwise wouldn't exist on those who are least economically so among us.

DELANEY: But those who are least economically so among us have suffered disproportionately under this pandemic. So many of those people are not sitting at home and Zooming into work. They're actually getting on public transportation, going to grocery stores and making sure the essential things that we all need are available. They're the people who will benefit the most from getting the vaccination rate up.

People who are sitting at home Zooming, being very careful about what they do and having the luxury, not to put themselves in a position where they're at risk, you know, they could -- they could continue to do this for months and months and months, but so many of our front line essential workers, et cetera, they really need to us get the vaccination rate up as soon as possible.

So what I would say is, listen, we have to embrace the science. The science is clear, whether it's Dr. Fauci or all the other leading kind of academicians, scientists within government, the cadre of physicians and scientists who are reviewing these vaccines carefully, they all agree that these vaccines will be safe and people should get them.

And so I don't see anything wrong with creating an incentive for people to do what all the experts believe they should do anyhow. And the people who will benefit the most, the people most vulnerable in our society.

SMERCONISH: Congressman, thank you. Provocative. I really enjoyed the essay. Good conversation starter.

DELANEY: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Let's check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. From Facebook, I think. What do we have?

Only the people that have been taking the virus seriously should get paid.

Well, Stacey, that is to my point. If you frame this as -- there will be -- I'm sure with President-elect Biden and Speaker Pelosi being able to get together with the Senate, of course, whether it's McConnell or Schumer, there will be another stimulus. Frame it this way, here comes another round of stimulus payments for Americans.

Should those who refuse to get the vaccine be included in that group? I think most people would say, no, no, if you're not going to play ball and allow us to get to some level of herd immunity then you can't partake in the stimulus program. It's all in how you ask the question.

I want to remind everybody to answer this week's survey question at my Web site at Smerconish.com. Another provocative one. Should religious services be treated as essential?

You heard the examples in my conversation with Amy Howe in New York. A liquor store, essential, but not a house of worship. Should they be? Answer that.

Still to come, the balance of the Senate hangs on the very tight January 5th runoff elections in Georgia. President Trump stumping in person on behalf of the GOP incumbents without giving up his claims of voter fraud in the state. Will his rally help or hurt?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:42:45]

SMERCONISH: Will President Trump's decision to rally December 5th for the two GOP Senate candidates in Georgia help or hurt their cause? The balance of the Senate hangs with the pair of January 5th runoffs in Georgia pitting Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue against respectively Democratic challengers, Reverend Raphael Warnock and investigative journalist Jon Ossoff.

The dueling tickets have been forced to find ways to reinvigorate their voters without the help of a presidential race on the ballot. The ads spent in the race already over $296 million. While the president's appearance should be a plus, he also seems intent on keeping alive his own candidacy and his own claims of voter fraud.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are looking at things that are so bad in Georgia.

It's a very close race. It's hair-thin. And look at what's happening in Georgia.

Speaking of Georgia, I'll be going there. You go down the streets there are Trump-Pence signs all over the place. And we won that by hundreds of thousands -- Georgia. And we will get Georgia. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Joining me now to discuss is Patricia Murphy, political reporter for the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution." Patricia, why traditionally do Democrats fare so poorly in these runoff elections?

PATRICIA MURPHY, POLITICAL REPORTER, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Well, so we've had runoff elections since 1992, and Republicans have been largely in charge of the state at least since 2002. And Republicans have an incredibly large infrastructure at the county level. They have excellent GOTP operations that they have really been able to turn on a dime for years and years.

So they just have an institutional ability to get those voters out. Also those voters are typically older and more reliable. And so even though Democrats have been a lot more successful recently getting their voters to the polls, for general elections those runoffs have been a big, big challenge to them in the past. And they know it could be a challenge for them in January.

SMERCONISH: It has a feel now of a -- and I'm a thousand miles away of a ticket race, right, it's Loeffler and Perdue, Ossoff and Warnock. It's hard to envision a scenario where one R and one D wins. Do you agree with that?

[09:45:02]

MURPHY: I completely agree with that. I would say for a couple of reasons, first of all, is that each -- both of the Republicans and both of the Democrats really do share political philosophies. They are very similar in the policies that they're advocating. So there's very little that one voter would like about one Democrat or one Republican that they wouldn't just naturally like about the other one.

And then I would say also it's just a highly partisan polarized electorate, and it's very unusual at this point for someone to go for one of these two candidates and not the other. And now at this point, they're both essentially campaigning together.

They're doing events for a double ticket. I asked voters of all of these would you ever vote for one over the other? And especially because control of the Senate has come down to these two races, you have to have both of them.

And we are finding out that the control of the Senate is a major animating factor in these races. And so, the type of voters that are coming out are there to either to put Chuck Schumer in charge or to keep Chuck Schumer from being in charge.

SMERCONISH: OK. So that's interesting because I wanted to pursue that. Actually, I want to show another clip from President Trump and then pose a question about which you just addressed. Roll the tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Mr. President, if you don't think that the presidential election was legitimate, that you think that it was stolen, what confidence do you expect voters in Georgia to have when they go to the polls to vote for say Loeffler or Perdue?

TRUMP: Well, I told them today, I think you're dealing with a very fraudulent system. I think -- I'm very worried about that.

They have a fraudulent system. The secretary of state who is really -- he's an enemy of the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: So, here are the two consistency problems that I see with Senators Loeffler and Perdue. If they don't acknowledge vice president, now President-elect Biden, as having won the race, how can they make an argument that you need us to keep an eye on the White House?

MURPHY: That's a great question. They have not been able to do that successfully yet. Both of these senators, and this very awkward position of having to be so loyal to the president, that they cannot say that the president has lost, because the president doesn't want them to say that he's lost. So, they can't go out to these rallies and say control of the Senate is in your hands.

However, voters in Georgia are really quite sophisticated, and they read the newspaper. They read the AJC and they know that President Trump has lost this election in Georgia and across the country. Some Trump loyalists in the state obviously are pushing that message very, very aggressively, that this election is rigged, that he has not lost. But the reality is the reality.

And I think voters are going to understand that by January 5th, whether the two senators are willing to say that out loud or not. It's really a semantic problem that they're having to solve on their own.

SMERCONISH: And finally, does it appear that we're headed for a repeat in so far as there's going on a big mail-in balloting primarily for the Democratic candidates and then there will be an in-person vote for the Republican candidates and will be waiting thereafter to see who really won?

MURPHY: It looks like there is going to be a very large mail-in component to this because COVID numbers are really starting to go back up here in the state. Also there's just the time over the holidays that people, I think, are having a chance to get their ballots requested and sent back in.

One big problem for Republicans is that the president has been so aggressively maligning mail-in voting. And Republicans want those mail-in votes. They want this to come in early and soon.

And so, we're seeing the Georgia Republican Party send out mailer, after mailer, telling people to get those ballot requests and then vote absentee. But we're hearing the president say that that's a fraudulent process. So, I think, that's not remotely helpful for the Republicans and the state. The message is one thing but the reality is the other as -- with a lot of things down here.

SMERCONISH: Patricia, thank you so much. That was excellent.

MURPHY: Great. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And have you voted? Go to Smerconish.com and answer this question, should religious services be treated as essential under COVID restrictions?

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[09:53:55]

SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to this week's survey question at Smerconish.com. Should religious services be treated as -- quote -- "essential" under COVID restrictions?

Survey says, no. Wow, pretty interesting, with nearly 25,000 having cast ballots in the first hour. I wonder if I had asked about liquor stores or, you know, your local weed location, what would people have said?

Here is some social media that came in. Smerconish, if acupuncture, booze and bike shops are essential, why can't people go to church?

Jane, I can't argue with that. If your acupuncturist, your liquor store et cetera, et cetera are I would think that religious services would be deemed essential. They just got to play by the rules. I mean, you've probably seen the film footage, the same that I have through social media of some congregants being in much too close a quarter.

One more if we have time for it, Catherine. Go ahead hit me with it.

Smerconish, didn't we decide protests were essential back in the summer?

[09:55:02]

You know, same answer that I have for all of these other things, which is wear a mask, be reasonable, and keep at a social distance. And there are always those abhorrent few who won't participate, whether it's a mask, or upcoming, whether it's a vaccine. The sooner everybody gets on the same page, the sooner we'll vanquish COVID-19.

Thanks so much for watching. I'll be back here next week. Have a great weekend.

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