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Can Civil Unrest Re-elect Donald Trump?; Is The Brazen Lack Of Social Distancing A Trump Strategy?; Tracking The Suspect In The Fatal Kenosha Shootings; The Most Important Election Of Our Lifetime Again? Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 29, 2020 - 09:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: None of us knew the names George Floyd or Jacob Blake. Now that Floyd was killed and Blake became paralyzed at the hands of police, the country has entered a period of grief, reflection, racial reconciliation, and in some instances violence, where the incidents of alleged police misconduct occurred in Minnesota and Wisconsin bears added significance.

Both states were decided by slim margins in 2016, which has only heightened the political stakes of the aftermath.

The Trump campaign struggling to rebound in the face of national and swing state data showing Joe Biden with a clear lead has sought to capitalize on the situation.

In a Republican National Convention speech on Wednesday night Vice President Mike Pence warned you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America. That same day former Vice President Biden released a video on Twitter saying this.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: You know, as I said, after George Floyd's murder, protest, the brutality is a right and absolutely necessary. But burning down communities is not protest. It's needless violence. So let's unite and heal, do justice, end the violence.


SMERCONISH: Senator Kamala Harris echoed her running mate and condemned violent protests accusing Donald Trump of stoking it for political benefit. Finally, came President Trump in his acceptance speech.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Republican Party condemns the rioting, looting, arson, and violence we have seen. And Democrat run cities all like Kenosha, Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago, and New York and many others, Democrat run. If the Democrat Party wants to stand with anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters and flag burners, that is up to them. But I as your president will not be a part of it.


SMERCONISH: So what impact is all of this having on the election? There's too little data for a definitive conclusion but some evidence suggests that in Minnesota and Wisconsin where the incidents involving Floyd and Blake occurred, it is having some impact.

Consider first that in a CBS/YouGov nationwide survey, nationwide survey, a plurality of Americans 44 percent said recent attention given to issues of discrimination is too much.

Additionally, according to my next guest's political polling average Joe Biden's margin over Donald Trump is not much higher in Minnesota than it is in Michigan or Pennsylvania, even though Clinton won Minnesota in 2016 by 1.5 percentage points compared to her performance in Michigan or Pennsylvania where she lost both states by less than a percentage point.

Biden leads Trump by six in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, seven in Michigan. What does it mean? Perhaps that the violence and looting that followed the death of George Floyd is helping Trump. It's too soon to tell if there'll be a similar fallout in Wisconsin. But here are some things to consider. This video recorded at 2:14 a.m. Wednesday morning, captured by an Isthmus newspaper reporter in a Papa John's pizzeria on University Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you trying to get Trump re-elected?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seriously. I got a family to support. I got fucking kids to feed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These people don't represent our movement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm sorry. But they're part -- they're with you.


SMERCONISH: Might that be the sentiment of more than one resident of the Badger State, as the New York Times reported on Thursday in Kenosha County where the President won by fewer than 250 votes in 2016. Those who already supported Mr. Trump said in interviews that the events of the past few days have simply reinforced their conviction that he is the man for the job.

But some voters who are less sure of their choice said the chaos in their city and the inability of elected leaders to stop it were currently nudging them toward the Republicans.

The 2016 margin in Wisconsin was just 22,748 votes, that's nearly 10,000 fewer than were obtained by third party candidate Jill Stein. While Biden has been leading in Wisconsin, his margin was shrinking before the shooting of Blake.

Consider this that according to a Marquette Law School poll, Biden's lead was down between June and August among Wisconsin likely voters. At the same time, perceptions of Black Lives Matter were worsening.

And there's been significant decline in support for protesters. Yes, the country is still in the midst of a pandemic, but the Trump campaign has been downplaying that and from all indications going to be playing up law and order as a path to victory.

Meanwhile, the Biden campaign seems confident that the election will be won or lost, based on Trump's mishandling, they say, of the virus.


I want to know what you think. Go to my website this hour and answer this week's survey question. Which will have a greater impact on the election outcome? COVID or civil unrest?

Joining me now is Harry Enten, CNN, Senior Political Writer and Analyst covering politics with a focus on poll numbers and electoral trends. Harry is also the author of this piece titled, Why Democrats are worried about Kenosha. Harry, why are Democrats worried about Kenosha?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER AND ANALYST WHO SPECIALIZES IN POLLS & DATA: I think that your numbers illustrate why they're worried about Kenosha, and that is because Biden's lead in Wisconsin, has shrunk over the last two months. At the same time, the protests become less popular, and at the same time, Black Lives Matter have become less popular.

And the other thing I'll note, right, is if you're ahead, you want the least amount of variables involved that could potentially slim your lead. Well, if you're Donald Trump, you want the most amount of chaos potentially out there so that you can shrink your deficit. So the numbers right now still indicate that Joe Biden is ahead. But obviously, the events over the last two months have not exactly been helpful to the former vice president's campaign.

SMERCONISH: Harry, I don't want to paint with too broad of a brush. There are electoral differences between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Will you speak to some of the differences that you think are significant?

ENTEN: Yeah, I mean, first off, as you noted, you know, obviously, Hillary Clinton won in Minnesota four years ago. She lost in Wisconsin, but more than that, you know, if you just look at the geography and the basis within each state, right, obviously, in the state of Minnesota, you have this huge metropolitan area in Minneapolis, St. Paul, that sort of is this base for democratic votes. You don't really have that in Wisconsin, right? You have Milwaukee which isn't as big of a metropolitan area as Minneapolis, St. Paul.

And Democrats are quite reliant on the big votes coming out of Madison. But you have seen this great degradation of the Democratic base in the more rural areas in Wisconsin. So I still think that Minnesota is the safer bet for Democrats. But obviously, the difference between Minnesota and Wisconsin, if you look at the polling data has shrunk over the last four years.

SMERCONISH: To be clear, you'd rather be Joe Biden than Donald Trump with regard to these numbers, true?

ENTEN: Absolutely true. I mean, you'd much rather be ahead than behind and Joe Biden still up by five, six points. And if you break it down by the cross tabs, we obviously see that Joe Biden is doing better among white voters without a college degree than Hillary Clinton did four years ago.

And of course, they make up the plurality or in fact, the majority of voters in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. So there's no doubt you'd rather be Joe Biden than Donald Trump. But I think you'd rather be Joe Biden two months ago than the Joe Biden today.

SMERCONISH: OK, well said, Harry. When I look at the Minnesota data versus the Wisconsin data or the Pennsylvania data again -- or the Michigan data recognizing that there are differences of these states. And I'm lumping them into the, you know, battleground, upper Midwest category.

What I do know and relying I should say in some polling that I know you're not comfortable always inciting. But it appears that the Biden margin is smaller in Minnesota than it is in those other states. And the only conclusion that I can draw is that it is attributable to some of the reaction to the post, George Floyd, violence and looting. Do you think that's a fair assessment for me to make?

ENTEN: I mean, it's certainly a fair assessment. I don't know if that's a true assessment, right? I mean, there are larger political trends that are at play here, right? You know, obviously, Minnesota did move significantly to the right in the 2016 election.

And I think it's sort of catching up to Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, these other states that have large populations of white voters without a college degree. But I think there's no doubt that the Joe Biden campaign is worried about the events over the last few months, in part because of the poll numbers that we've been citing throughout this segment, but also in part because of common sense and the fact that they're ahead. So I think that's a fair assessment. We'll obviously see if it's a true assessment over the next few months.

SMERCONISH: Final thought, if I may. So you've got the Trump campaign saying, hey, I'm the thin blue line, holding all of you suburbanites back from what you're seeing on your television screen. The Biden campaign says, I think quite reasonably, wait, this is illogical. We're not in office. Joe's not in office. You are blaming your successor for a situation that's unfolding on your watch, your response?

ENTEN: I mean, yeah, that's true. The -- Donald Trump is the incumbent, the buck stops there. And the fact that Donald Trump's approval rating on the protest is not hot. It's simply not. His net approval rating is in the minus 20s. And so, you know, obviously, that's what Biden is going to try and do. He's going to try and pin it on Trump.

But the one thing I will note is that Donald Trump wants the next few months to be about crying because that is the issue where he is best on while Joe Biden want to be on the wider question about leadership and also on the protest because that's where voters trust him most.


SMERCONISH: I think that the piece that you just published at is great and has a lot of good data. And I encourage people to go and to read it. Thank you, Harry.

ENTEN: Thank you, my friend.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me at Smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I will read some throughout the course of the program. This comes from Facebook. What do we have?

Joe came out late on condemning violence and not strong enough in condemnation. That's the reality to swing voters.

Well, Walt, I will say that's the perception. I think, among some swing voters. Fact check me on this. I think it was July 28 that Joe came out hard on the violent protesters. So you know, he said it.

But I think that the Trump campaign ignores the fact that he has said these things, instead tries to label him as one who's an advocate of defunding the police, even though he hasn't said that either. And so people go to their respective media outlets and believe what they want to believe as to what Joe has or hasn't said.

I encourage you to do your own research and figure out what each of these candidates is saying. I want to remind you to answer the survey question at right now. Which is going to have a greater impact on the election outcome? Will it be COVID? Or will it be civil unrest?

Up ahead when President Trump's rally crowd in New Hampshire was asked to wear masks last night, they booed.

Well, maybe hard to blame them when they just seen the RNC finale at the White House undistanced, unmasked. Well, the GOP is more relaxed approach to the pandemic proof politically potent.

And a 17 year old from Illinois went to the Kenosha riots armed with an assault rifle and now stands charged with shooting three protesters killing two of them. What were those circumstances? Does he have any hope of a defense? Here's what he told an interviewer before the shootings.


KYLE RITTENHOUSE, KENOSHA, WI SHOOTING SUSPECT: We're protecting from the citizens and I just got pepper sprayed by person in the crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you have non-lethal but you just response?

RITTENHOUSE: We don't have non-lethal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you guys are full and ready to defend the property.

RITTENHOUSE: Yes, we are.




SMERCONISH: The image is from President Trump's acceptance speech Thursday night were jarring in a country that's in its fifth month of a pandemic. We're already more than 180,000 people have died.

You saw more than 1500 people sitting shoulder to shoulder on the South Lawn, most without masks at a time when the nation has been practicing social distancing, and many are obligated by law to wear masks in public settings. It was arguably one of the largest planned event gatherings that we've seen since the pandemic began and it came at the White House.

Then last night, the President held a campaign rally in New Hampshire that also looked rather pre pandemic. And when a public address announcement encouraged people to wear masks, they booed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, in accordance with the New Hampshire executive order 63, please wear your masks.


SMERCONISH: The lack of social distancing, it seems to me deliberate a campaign strategy. The differences in attitudes toward the virus as between the two political parties and their activists is impacting the race as we enter the final stage. The Democrats had a largely remote zoom convention. Republicans were significantly in-person albeit distanced in the Mellon Auditorium.

The differing approaches can also be seen in retail politicking. The Republicans are registering voters. The Democrats are doing so sporadically. And as detailed recently by Politico, Republicans are going door-to-door, Democrats largely aren't.

Politico reported earlier this month that the Trump campaign knocked on a million doors in a single week, at a time when the Biden campaign knocked on none. "Biden and the Democratic National Committee aren't sending volunteers or staffers to talk with voters at home and don't anticipate doing anything more than dropping off literature unless the crisis abates.

The campaign and the Democratic National Committee think they can compensate for the lack of in-person canvassing, with phone calls, texts, new forms of digital organizing, and virtual meet-ups with voters."

How might all of this affect the outcome? Joining me now is the democratic senator from the great state of Delaware. That would be Chris Coons, who has earned the nickname The Biden whisperer.

So Senator Coons start whispering as to whether you think this is a deliberate strategy by the Trump campaign. They want to draw this contrast.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Well, Michael, a lot of Donald Trump's record as president and a lot of his success as a candidate in 2016, we can attribute to his attitude. There are tens of millions of Americans who find his conduct, his comments on Twitter, his racially insensitive remarks over his time in office as a off putting jarring or even offensive, but amongst his base, amongst those who have supported him all along the way, they respond to his brash, his aggressive response.

And that's being reflected in how our two candidates, Joe Biden running for the presidency and my party, the Democrat candidate and Donald Trump, how he's running for reelection. That ending speech, that long, rambling, largely unfocused speech in front of the White House, in front of a very large crowd crammed in together. Very few if any masks to be seen, was in no small part a message about attitude about chin forward. I'm not changing my tone.


Is there some pandemic going on? Let's talk about violence in law and order. His tone was as bellicose, as aggressive as it's ever been. We're not we're not going to see any change in Donald Trump, his campaign tactics, or his approach towards what Democrats think is one of our most important challenges unifying our country and healing and getting through this pandemic.

SMERCONISH: Senator, the imagery from Thursday night is really a Rorschach test, is it not? I mean, I know that Chris Coons looks at that video and is aghast at people sitting shoulder to shoulder no less on the South Lawn of the White House. I assume that his base looks at that and says, well, hell yeah, COVID is in the rearview mirror. Is it being used to motivate that base? I guess is my question. And are you worried about how it plays with whatever swing voters might be left in this country?

COONS: Well, Michael, here's the way in which I think that visual and that message is jarring to millions of Americans. There's nearly 6 million Americans who've been infected with COVID. There's 180,000 who have died.

If you think about the deeply important family moments of the last six months, the wedding's that have been canceled or moved entirely to being virtual, the loved ones who have passed away and who've been more without an in-person funeral. There are millions and millions of Americans for whom that reality show, that broadcast from in front of the White House is in direct contrast to their reality.

And they know that the law, and that public health and that respect for their families and their loved ones, requires social distancing, masking. And Joe Biden is unafraid to say, if I'm president, we're all going to wear masks. Donald Trump's speech focused on promises made and promises kept. And one of the most important promises he made as a candidate that he has utterly failed to keep is to keep the American people safe and healthy. He talked over and over about how he was going to replace the Affordable Care Act with a new approach to health care that was lower cost, more accessible, higher quality.

And yet he continues to sue in the Supreme Court of the United States to take in the middle of a pandemic, to take away what's left of the Affordable Care Act, pre-existing condition protection for 130 million Americans. That Supreme Court argument as, you know, Michael is just been scheduled for the week after the election.

So maybe that visual speaks to some key elements of his base. That attitude of the pandemic has passed us, but for 6 million Americans, not only is the pandemic not passed, but for millions of American families, the wreckage to their jobs, to their family, and to these important sacred moments in life, funerals and weddings that they had to forego, that was insulting.

SMERCONISH: Quick final question, if I may. I'm looking at the front page of today's New York Times were above the fold. It says Biden gears up to hit the trail in swing states. Has the Trump approach that you and I have just discussed forced Vice President Biden to now get out and do retail politicking he otherwise would not be doing?

COONS: Now it hasn't forced him to make a change. Michael, let's look back at two critical moments. After George Floyd was brutally murdered, it was Joe Biden, who got on a plane and went to Houston and visited with George Floyd's family privately in a small group meeting before the funeral.

In the days after some of the largest protests in Washington, I'll remind you it was Donald Trump, who tear gassed an entire crowd of peaceful demonstrators to walk across Lafayette Square and use a church as a backdrop. It was Joe Biden, who asked if a prominent local pastor of the Reverend Dr. Sylvester Beeman would convene a group of pastors and of community activists, and Joe went to one of our most prominent local churches to kneel, to pray, to listen, that happened now months ago.

Joe is someone who has always when the moment calls for it, seeing the significance of going and being with the people of our country, but in a way that is safe, socially distanced and follows the directions of scientists.

SMERCONISH: Senator Coons, thank you, as always. I appreciate you being here.

COONS: Thank you, Michael, great to be on with you.

SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying on my Twitter and Facebook pages. Where does this come from Katherine (ph)? Twitter. Perception is reality. Biden looks weak. Trump looks strong. Words don't matter. Talk is cheap. People decide based on what they see. Not on what they hear. Perception is -- Well, Bionic Monkey, I guess the question is, you know, you're looking at the Rorschach test and you're seeing weakness.

Vice President Biden's supporters are looking at it and they're seeing science and they're seeing caution. But man, they're there it is. In one steel frame, you know, it's Joe socially distanced, speaking to a handful of folks at a time at a Delaware auditorium and it's Trump, who is in New Hampshire with 1000 people who went told they should put on a mask. They all boo. And not much room in between.


Don't forget to answer this week's survey question at I know how Senator Coons will be voting. Which will have a greater impact on election outcome? COVID or civil unrest?

Still come, every election, we are told that this is the most consequential race ever. It'll make or break America as we know it. Is this year different? Is 2020 actually the most important election in our nation's history?

And this teenage gunman charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Why do lawyers for him think that he can claim he was acting in self defense? We're going to break down the video in a moment.



SMERCONISH: A 17-year-old from Illinois stands charged in Wisconsin with six counts, including first-degree reckless homicide, first- degree intentional homicide, attempted first degree intentional homicide. Prior to the shooting, Kyle Rittenhouse happened to be interviewed by "The Daily Caller."


KYLE RITTENHOUSE, KENOSHA, WISCONSIN SHOOTING SUSPECT: Some people are getting injured and our job is to protect this business and part of my job is also to help people. If there is somebody hurt, I'm running into harms way. That's why I have my rifle because I need to protect myself, obviously. But I also have my med kit.


SMERCONISH: He claims that he was seeking to protect property. His defense lawyers have called this a classic case of self-defense. As a matter of fact, one of the attorneys tweeted last night, "Kyle Rittenhouse will be acquitted. He will become a symbol of the heroic individual American who at certain times in history must say: Don't Tread On Me."

The Visual Investigations unit of "The New York Times" has analyzed seven live streams that captured the chaotic events resulting in two deaths. I warn you, we're going to show some of the disturbing video to explain all of this. Joining me now is Haley Willis, a visual investigations reporter at the "Times" team that assembled the footage from multiple sources. By the way, Haley, I'm a big fan of these visual investigations. So, please keep them going.

What do you find significant about the events that precede the first shooting?

HALEY WILLIS, THE NEW YORK TIMES VISUAL INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER: Right. So, as you say, we analyzed a lot of live streams, a lot of stand-alone videos, hours of footage, and there's a lot of footage that captures Mr. Rittenhouse prior to the shooting.

So, as you just showed, we see "The Daily Caller" interview, as well as several other interviews with him early on, where he claims to be protecting property at this car dealership/auto shop. And he spends most of the time prior to the shooting around this one area.

We see him there with this group of armed men and they are protecting this dealership. And about 15 minutes prior to the shooting, in that location, we actually see them have an interaction with police. And so, what that looks like is police officers coming up to this group.

They actually thank them for their work. They say, we really appreciate you guys, we really do. They give them water. And during that time, Kyle is speaking to them directly, and he's armed with his AR-15-style rifle during this interaction with police.

About five minutes after that --

SMERCONISH: In that time --


SMERCONISH: Yes, I'm sorry. I was going to say, is it also true that prior to the first shooting with which he was involved, he renders some form of assistance, medical assistance, to certain of the protesters?

WILLIS: So, we never see him actually rendering medical aid, but we do see him offering medical aid many times to injured protesters who are walking by. He claims he's an EMT. He's asking if anyone needs medical. And at one point, he does leave this car dealership to walk around and ask protesters if they need medical aid.

And that's also a very interesting interaction, because people seem to recognize him. They claimed he had previously pointed a gun at him, and it looks like there's a lot of antagonism toward him when he's offering these people medical aid and people seem afraid that he's doing this while carrying his weapon.

SMERCONISH: In the first shooting instance with which we think he was involved, there's a gunshot that was not his, and then the evidence you have assembled suggests that someone lunges toward him. He responds by shooting, hitting the person in the head, and killing them. Is that a fair summation? WILLIS: Yes. That's correct. So, what we know is that there is eight shots in the first shooting, and four of them are result of Mr. Rittenhouse. The first shot was not shot by him.

We haven't identified that gunman yet, but we see them in the footage. We see the flash from the muzzle of their handgun. And what we believe is happening is that Mr. Rittenhouse turns around when he hears it. He sees the first victim. This is not the person who shot but the first victim who is attempting to lunge at him, and that's when he shoots four times and hits that person.

SMERCONISH: I told my radio audience this week that that in and of itself seems like a law school exam that I had in criminal law, where you then try and view it from the different perspectives. When his lawyers say classic self-defense, perhaps they are suggesting that the lunger thought that it was Rittenhouse who fired that shot, now lunges toward him, and Rittenhouse has to defend himself.

Let me get to the second shooting. This is captured on video. We're going to roll it, and then I'll ask you some questions.

Here he is headed down the street. You can see he's got the AR-15 in hand. He's about to trip. Somebody takes a swing at him. Then you'll see him fall. On the ground.


There he is. There's a man he shot in the chest. There's someone he shot in the arm. There's a handgun in the hand of the individual he shot in the arm.

What do you find significant, Haley, in this?

WILLIS: Right. So, this is captured pretty immediately after the first shooting, when he's fleeing the scene. Several people start chasing him saying, stop him, he's the shooter. And he trips and falls to the ground. We see three people kind of rush him and attempt to -- one person kind of attempts to kick him and runs off. He fires two shots then and misses that person.

The person who's shot in the chest appears to be almost attempting to disarm him, and that's when the third shot is fired by Mr. Rittenhouse, and he shoots that man in the chest. And unfortunately, he is now dead. The third person never gets his hands on Mr. Rittenhouse, but he runs up to him, and we do know he's holding a handgun, and that's when this fourth shot is fired and he hits this man in the arm.

So, there's a lot of chaos in this scene, but it is very -- it's clear that this other person is armed, that Mr. Rittenhouse is armed, and that he's firing four shots in the moment.

SMERCONISH: And finally, Rittenhouse gets on his feet. We've got film footage then of him walking toward law enforcement. Frankly, they seem -- here's a guy with an AR-15. He's got his hands up, to some extent. They seem thoroughly disinterested in what it is he has to say. Your thoughts?

WILLIS: I think this is kind of one of the key moments of this. We see Mr. Rittenhouse walking away from the scene with his hands up, perhaps attempting to surrender himself. People are shooting from the side, he's the shooter. And the police do drive right by him. Also worth noting, the police have been at this intersection the entire time of the shootings and have not moved, have not attempted to apprehend the shooter, have not attempted to go provide medical aid until this moment.

And so, I think what's important about this moment is that it speaks to the serious questions that this raises. Of course, this is a complex incident. There is altercations from many people. Several people appear to be armed. But it raises serious questions about why a 17-year-old kid was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and had interacted with police prior and there were no questions asked, and later, why police made no attempt to apprehend him after the shooting.

SMERCONISH: Haley, well done. Thank you again for being here. I appreciate your work.

WILLIS: Thank you so much for having me, Michael.

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

Unfortunately nobody cares about the full details. They just want justice right away and will come up with their own perception of what it is.

Guess what? I totally agree with that. I totally agree with that. And I want to say something about the Floyd case, the Blake case, and the Rittenhouse case, which is that I think it's incumbent upon all of us, especially people in the media, to try and present all of the detail so that there isn't a rush to judgment, so that if any of these cases end up contrary to the court of public opinion, there isn't unnecessary mayhem because people never understood to begin with what all the attendant circumstances were. That's my view.

Don't forget to answer this week's survey question at Which will have a greater impact on election outcome? Will it be COVID or will it be civil unrest?

Still to come, both President Trump and Joe Biden, they agree on one thing, 2020 is the most consequential election ever. Basically, people say it every year. Well, is 2020 the most important election in the history of the country? Here's what LBJ told us was at stake back in '64.


LYNDON B. JOHNSON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must either love each other or we must die.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home. (END VIDEO CLIP)



SMERCONISH: Did you know that 2020 is the most important election of our lifetimes, if not ever? If you don't believe me, both candidates told us so at their recent conventions.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: All elections are important, but we know in our bones this one is more consequential.

This is a life-changing election. This will determine what America's going to look like for a long, long time.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the most important election in the history of our country.

This election will decide whether we save the American dream or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny.


SMERCONISH: Only problem is, Americans have been told that in nearly every election. Take a listen to just a sampling.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Honestly, I believe this may be the most important election of our lifetimes.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Barbara Bush said this is the most important election of my lifetime. Now, that's saying something because her husband was a president and so was her son.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think this is the most important election since 1860.

BARACK OBAMA (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: This election is the most important election of our lifetime.

JOHN KERRY (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: This is the most important election of our lifetime.

DICK CHENEY (R), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We are in the first national election in the 21st century in the United States in what will be, I am convinced, one of the most important elections we're likely to see for the next 50 years.

BIDEN: This is the most important election you've ever been part of, no matter how old or how young you are. The very character of our nation is on the ballot on Tuesday. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: So, is this one double most important, or should we never believe the hype? Joining me now to discuss is Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, where he is a professor of politics. By the way, Dr. Sabato is arguably the most important guest that I've ever had on this program.


Dr. Sabato, what do you make of all this? Why does it get said every four years?


LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Well, first, this is the most important show I've ever been on, the most important appearance I've ever had.


SMERCONISH: That's true. By the way, that happens to be true.


SABATO: Yes. Of course, it's true.

Look, it's double true, triple true, quadruple true for 2020. We always believe it's true. Why? Because our political leaders and our parties tell us it's true every four years. That was a brilliant little cut over the years.

The only one who qualified it -- you have to give him credit -- is Dick Cheney. He said, this could be one of the most important elections for the next 50 years. So, he cut American history down to 50 years.

But why do they do it? Because they're trying to excite people and increase voter turnout and enthusiasm. Perfectly reasonable. But those who pay attention and listen to this every four years do get a little bit cynical.

SMERCONISH: So, what's the serious answer? If I were to ask you with your vast knowledge, historically speaking, give me the top two or three list, and also give me something from the modern era.

SABATO: Sure. Well, of course, being at Thomas Jefferson University, I'm going to start with the election of 1800, when Jefferson defeated John Adams. The reason that was a critical election is because it set the precedent for an incumbent president being defeated for re- election and leaving office feasible.

1860 I think is absolutely the most important election in American history because it led to the Civil War and eventually the abolition of slavery. But this century, I pick two, 1932, Franklin Roosevelt's election opened up a nearly 50-year period of activist government, and that ended in 1980 with the next most important election with Ronald Reagan began a 30-year -- approximately, 30-year period of retrenchment, of conservative government that reversed some of the trends that we saw during the Roosevelt era.

SMERCONISH: So, where does 2020 fall, according to you?

SABATO: I think it's the most important election of our lifetimes. I really do.

Look, I don't know whether it's the most important election of our lifetime but I'm going to say that because I want to maximize turnout. Now, the truth is, we don't know. Michael, we don't know.

Remember, back in 2000, we're both old enough to remember every jot and tittle of that one -- Bush/Gore, Bush/Gore. Everyone said ahead of the election, oh, this is so boring. I really don't see the difference. They're both gray. It makes no difference.

What happened? 9/11. The war in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq. Loads of other things. It turned out to be one of the most consequential elections, certainly of my lifetime but everybody thought it was a bore prior to the tie in Florida.

SMERCONISH: I think your observation's a great one, that we really don't know until we've run the election and seen what resulted, i.e., 1860, to know whether it was the most consequential. So, this is a subject you and I, hopefully, can revisit down the road. Dr. Sabato, that was excellent. Thank you so much.

SABATO: Thank you, Michael. Enjoyed it.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments, and we'll give you the final results of the survey question at You can go and vote right now. Which will have a greater impact on election outcome, COVID or civil unrest?



SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the survey question this week at Which will have a greater impact on election outcome? Will it be COVID or civil unrest?

Here is what the survey results show, 59 percent say COVID. Essentially a 60/40 with a whopping I'll call it 20,000 who've already voted.

Maybe a little confirmation bias. Maybe you're saying, well, that's what's most important to me, but time will tell.

Catherine, what came in during the course of the program? From social media here we go.

All the tweets you put up are pro-Trump. You call yourself fair? Bias is more like it. Since when did you decide to help Trump get elected? Shame.

Now, I guess my reading of your tweet just confirmed, what? I leave that to you. Next.

Trump is the president. Why is the media creating a story about unrest helping Trump? Trump is the cause of unrest?

Beth, I went into the data that shows there has been to some extent a change in some battleground states. Pay attention, Minnesota. Pay attention to Wisconsin.

I get your observation. I made it earlier. It's unfolding on his watch. Therefore, how can he lay it off on Joe Biden? He's saying it's going to get worse if it's Joe instead of him providing this thin blue line.

One more if I have got time for it. I think that I do.

It is amazing how people can bend a situation to excuse this boy then bend the situation another way to excuse the cops so that no matter what it's the victims fault.

Eleanor, let me just encourage everybody to do this, you've got to absorb yourself in the facts of each one of these cases before rendering a judgment. Because they are not what they initially appear to be sometimes. You look at George Floyd -- I'll give you three quickies if I've got time. Look at the George Floyd case. Chauvin should never have had his knee on the man's neck while he's saying I can't breathe much less for nine minutes.


But where Floyd said six or seven times I can't breathe before they even put him in the squad car and had a boat load of fentanyl in his system, there might be a causation defense there. Blake, you don't shoot a man in the back. You don't shoot a man in the back.

But if he had a knife in the car or on him, that might change the standard as to whether deadly force was appropriate. And in the Rittenhouse case a 17-year-old in Wisconsin legally shouldn't have an AR-15. But once he had it if he had a reasonable fear that he was about to be killed by whoever lunged at him, maybe he was authorized to use it.

Don't rush to judgment. Then we don't have a reaction that's outsourced when these cases end in a way we don't anticipate.

Thanks for watching. See you next week.