The Democratic National Convention kicks off Monday, and the uncertainties around it are legion.
Can a virtual political convention unfolding in the midst of a pandemic be compelling? How will the speakers inject energy into their performances when they have no audience cheering them on? Will the American people tune in, or is everyone sick of their screens?
Here are five questions to consider — around convention logistics and more traditional political issues alike — heading into a critical week for Democrats.
Can the Democrats unite their party — and win over any Republicans? Despite the extraordinary circumstances of this year’s event, more traditional convention imperatives — energizing the party and engaging swing voters — remain, too. Monday will offer a vivid illustration of the broad coalition the Democrats are hoping to assemble.
Michelle Obama, the former first lady, is the headliner, but the lineup also includes both Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s progressive primary rival, and former Gov. John Kasich, Republican of Ohio.
As Mr. Biden seeks to excite skeptical liberals while reaching out to moderates disillusioned with President Trump, Monday will demonstrate how Democrats hope to thread that needle.
Will the technology cooperate? When Mr. Biden held a “virtual town hall” event in March, things did not go exactly as planned. Since then, America has settled in to communicating via video, but the technology risks at the convention are real. Will the satellite feeds hold? Will prominent participants accidentally mute — or unmute — themselves? Will anyone be interrupted while recording at home by well-meaning visitors, “BBC dad”-style?
The remote style of the convention, however, also brings opportunity. Speakers have been encouraged to seek out interesting locations for their backdrops. Who will claim the most iconic spot?
Can the candidates create any drama? Some politicians — Mr. Biden chief among them — thrive off audience reaction. How will he and other speakers build to crescendos and electrify viewers when there is no enthralled crowd cheering them on?
This past week, when Mr. Biden debuted with his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, they had only the cameras and a group of journalists to wave to.
Will any new faces emerge? Conventions offer an unmatched platform for up-and-coming politicians to leave an impression in front of a national audience — just ask Barack Obama, whose keynote address at the 2004 convention was a pivotal moment in his rapid ascent from state senator to U.S. senator to president.
Even in a virtual format, there is still plenty of opportunity to get on people’s radar across the country. Who will make the most of that chance?
How will Trump respond? One thing is certain: The convention will place a lot of attention on a lot of Democratic politicians who are not fond of Mr. Trump. And Mr. Trump is unlikely to be restrained in his commentary next week.
One of the most powerful speeches of the 2016 Democratic convention came from Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim American soldier who was killed while serving in Iraq. Mr. Khan denounced Mr. Trump’s campaign message, and Mr. Trump proceeded to attack Mr. Khan and his wife, igniting a political firestorm. Will a similar dynamic play out next week?
The Postal Service has warned states that it may not be able to meet their deadlines for delivering last-minute mail-in ballots, further fueling the clash over the new postmaster general’s handling of vote-by-mail operations as President Trump continues to rail against the practice.
In letters sent in July to all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Thomas J. Marshall, the general counsel for the Postal Service, told most of them that “certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards.”
As many states turn to vote-by-mail operations to carry out elections safely amid the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Marshall urged those with tight schedules to require that residents request ballots at least 15 days before an election — rather than the shorter periods currently allowed under the laws of many states.
“This mismatch creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted,” Mr. Marshall wrote.
Many states have long allowed voters to request a mail ballot close to the election, but the Postal Service suggested that the large volume of voting by mail at a time of widespread delivery delays meant that states would be better off building more time into their systems.
Mr. Marshall said Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Rhode Island should not have any trouble, based on their laws, while he requested more information from Vermont and Washington, D.C. The other 45 states, he told them in the letters, face the risk that the timetables set by their laws could leave some voters unable to get their ballots postmarked by Election Day or received by election boards in time to be counted.
In response to the warning letters, some states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan, have called for extensions on counting late-arriving ballots in the November election.
The Postal Service’s inspector general said Friday she had opened an investigation into complaints that leading Democrats have filed against the postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a Republican megadonor and ally of President Trump, who has begun a series of cuts to the agency that Democrats say have slowed down the delivery of mail and endanger vote-by-mail operations.
“We are in receipt of the congressional request and are conducting a body of work to address concerns raised,” a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service inspector general, Tammy L. Whitcomb, said.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York and others last week requested the inspector general investigate “all recent staffing and policy changes put in place” by Mr. DeJoy.
“We have to see the blatant attacks on our Postal Service from Donald Trump and Louis DeJoy for what they are: An attempt to silence the people and undermine our democracy,” Ms. Warren wrote on Twitter.
She said the inspector general was “investigating all aspects of our request,” adding: “I’ll keep using every in the toolbox to stop Trump & DeJoy from sabotaging the USPS.”
Mr. DeJoy has argued that he is modernizing the money-losing agency to make it more efficient. Among his moves have been cuts to overtime for postal workers, restrictions on transportation and the reduction of the quantity and use of mail-processing equipment.
President Trump’s re-election campaign has spent tens of millions of dollars on television ads attacking his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr. While their content varies greatly, the tactics used remain constant: selectively edited remarks and exaggerations.
The New York Times reviewed 22 ads from the Trump campaign that have aired since June and that have been tracked by Advertising Analytics. We found that 14 of those ads contained clearly misleading claims or videos. Here’s are some examples.
Exaggerations about criminal justice issues: Throughout much of June and July, the ads focused on activists’ calls to defund the police, with hyperbolic warnings about the ramifications. Two spots featured people calling 911 only to be connected to voice recordings saying no one is there to answer their call, with one spot claiming “violent crime has exploded.” But that’s largely false. Compared with the same time period last year, violent crime and property crime have decreased through June in large American cities this year, though murders have increased.
Distorting Mr. Biden’s positions: Several Trump campaign ads take comments Mr. Biden has made out of context to falsely claim he supports defunding the police, heavily raising taxes on middle-class families and eliminating charter schools. The former vice president has repeatedly said that he does not support calls to defund the police entirely, but that federal grants to police departments should incentivize reform efforts and best practices while specific decisions about funding should be made at a local level. He supports continuing federal funding for high-performing public charter schools, and while his tax proposals would generate an additional $4 trillion in federal revenue over the next decade, the wealthiest top 1 percent of taxpayers would bear about three-quarters of tax increases.
Personal attacks through deceptive editing: The Trump campaign has taken shots at Mr. Biden’s mental acuity through deceptively edited videos and images. One ad and its Spanish version call Mr. Biden “clearly diminished” and include a clip of Mr. Biden saying, “Sometimes I wake up and think it’s 1920.”
While Mr. Biden has been prone to gaffes on the campaign trail, that specific comment is not an example of one. Rather, it is how Mr. Biden has occasionally expressed dismay over the current social and political atmosphere. “Some mornings that I wake up, I wonder whether or not we are living in 2020 or 1920,” he said in January in Texas. “I hear the voices of intolerance singing the chorus of hate, intolerance.”
As Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced that he had selected Kamala Harris of California as his vice-presidential running mate, internet trolls got to work.
Since then, false and misleading information about Ms. Harris has spiked online and on TV. The activity has jumped from two dozen mentions per hour during a recent week to over 3,200 per hour in the last few days, according to the media insights company Zignal Labs, which analyzed global television broadcasts and social media.
Much of that rise is fueled by fervent supporters of President Trump and adherents of the extremist conspiracy movement QAnon, as well as by the far left, according to a New York Times analysis of the most widespread falsehoods about Ms. Harris. On Thursday, Mr. Trump himself encouraged one of the most persistent falsehoods, a racist conspiracy theory that Ms. Harris is not eligible for the vice presidency or presidency because her parents were immigrants.
“Sadly, this wave of misinformation was predictable and inevitable,” said Melissa Ryan, chief executive of Card Strategies, a consulting firm that researches disinformation.
Many of the narratives are inaccurate accusations that first surged last year during Ms. Harris’s campaign to become the Democratic presidential nominee.
President Trump on Friday refused to disavow the QAnon conspiracy theory, avoiding questions from a reporter about whether he agreed with Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican nominee for a House seat in Georgia, in her support of a movement that has been labeled a potential domestic terrorism threat by the F.B.I.
Ms. Greene is a proponent of a convoluted pro-Trump conspiracy theory involving a “deep state” of child-molesting Satanist traitors who are plotting against the president.
At a news briefing on Friday, an Associated Press reporter, Jill Colvin, asked the president whether he agreed with Ms. Greene’s statement that the conspiracy theory was something “worth listening to.”
“She won by a lot,” he responded. “She comes from a great state.”
When pressed again by Ms. Colvin about whether he agreed specifically with her support of the QAnon conspiracy theory, Mr. Trump did not answer the question, and called on another reporter.
Earlier, on Twitter, Mr. Trump endorsed Ms. Greene, calling her a “future Republican Star” and “a real WINNER!”
Mr. Trump has long used his fame and platform to amplify conspiracy theories and undermine his political enemies by muddying the waters when it comes to facts. A day earlier, Mr. Trump appeared to begin elevating the lie that Kamala Harris, who was born in California, was not eligible for national office because her parents were immigrants.
“I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” Mr. Trump said of Ms. Harris, promoting a false assertion from behind the podium in the White House briefing room.
A former F.B.I. lawyer intends to plead guilty after he was charged with falsifying a document as part of a deal with prosecutors conducting their own criminal inquiry of the Russia investigation, according to his lawyer and court documents made public on Friday.
The lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, 38, who was assigned to the Russia investigation, plans to admit that he altered an email from the C.I.A. that investigators relied on to seek renewed court permission in 2017 for a secret wiretap on the former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Mr. Clinesmith’s lawyer said he had made a mistake while trying to clarify facts for a colleague.
Mr. Clinesmith had written texts expressing opposition to President Trump, who immediately promoted the plea agreement as proof that the Russia investigation was illegitimate and politically motivated. He opened a White House news conference by calling Mr. Clinesmith “corrupt” and the deal “just the beginning.”
Mr. Trump has long been blunt about seeing the continuing investigation by the prosecutor examining the earlier inquiry, John H. Durham, as political payback whose fruits he would like to see revealed in the weeks before the election.
Prosecutors did not reveal any evidence in charging documents that Mr. Clinesmith’s actions were part of any broader conspiracy to undermine Mr. Trump. And the Justice Department’s independent inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, has found that law enforcement officials had sufficient reason to open the Russia investigation, and found no evidence that they acted with political bias.