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'No Drama?' Obama warns that America is on the brink

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Former President Barack Obama speaks during the third night of the Democratic National Convention
Former President Barack Obama speaks during the third night of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020.Democratic National Convention via AP

WASHINGTON — It was extraordinary to hear former President Barack Obama slam his successor and warn that America’s democracy is on the line in November.

It was also extraordinary that it was hard finding observers — including Trump defenders — denying Obama’s accusations.

In fact, Trump’s own tweets responding to Obama only seemed to prove the 44th president’s point.

“He has shown no interest in putting in the work. No interest in finding common ground. No interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends. No interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

Obama’s remarks served to other-ize Trump — similar to what Trump does to his opponents.

There was one Democratic convention speech that everyone remembered from 2012, and that was Bill Clinton’s defense of Obama and his attacks on Mitt Romney’s fiscal plans.

And eight years later, the smart money is that there will be one Democratic convention speech from a previous president that everyone will remember from 2020.

Tweet of the day

Trump legitimizes QAnon conspiracy theory

Also proving Obama’s point about Trump treating the presidency as a reality show to get the attention he craves, here’s what the current president said about the QAnon conspiracy theory when NBC’s Shannon Pettypiece asked him about it.

“Well, I don't know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate but I don't know much about the movement. I have heard that it is gaining in popularity.”

And when Pettypiece followed up that the crux of the conspiracy theory is that the president is saving the world from a Satanic cult of pedophiles, Trump responded:

“Well, I haven't heard that. Is that so be a bad thing or good thing? If I can help save the world from problems, I'm willing to do it. I'm willing to put myself out there. And we are actually. We're saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will destroy this country and when this country is gone, the rest of the world would follow.”

Bottom line: With those remarks, Trump only served to legitimize QAnon.

Joe Biden’s challenge for tonight

He’s leading in the polls. He’s benefitting from being the challenger in a political environment where most Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

But Joe Biden still has some work to do when he delivers his acceptance speech on the final night of the Democratic convention.

According to the most recent NBC News/WSJ poll, a majority of voters — 52 percent — say they’re either uncertain or pessimistic about the job he’d do as president (compared with 59 percent who said that about Trump).

And here were some quotes from voters in poll who say they’re voting for Biden, but who aren’t optimistic or confident about what he’d do in the job, when asked what they’d like to hear from him:

“What is he going to do for the coronavirus in terms of containment and prevention of spreading?”

“Him to be a little bit more clear on what his economic or recovery plan is.”

“How would he restore America's position in the world after Presidents Trump's presidency?”

“I'd like to know more of his life story. I don't know much about it.”

As NBC News/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart puts it, “Biden is well-known – but not known well, and people are looking for direction on that.”

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

5,546,232: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 45,279 more than yesterday morning.)

174,088: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,305 more than yesterday morning.)

68.95 million: The number of coronavirus tests administered in the U.S., according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

About 900: The number of pages and groups banned by Facebook yesterday because of links to the QAnon conspiracy theory.

25,000: The number of structures threatened by the recent California wildfires.

$600 million: How much Michigan is set to pay victims of the Flint water crisis in a major new settlement.

2020 Vision: Final night of the Democratic convention

Here’s the speaking lineup for the fourth – and final – night of the virtual Democratic convention:

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
  • Pete Buttigieg
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom
  • Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms
  • Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.
  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.
  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.
  • Andrew Yang
  • Michael Bloomberg
  • Joe Biden

Ad watch from Ben Kamisar

Today’s Ad Watch takes a look at the Massachusetts Senate Democratic primary, where two new ads from Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy typify the pushes the two candidates are making in the deep blue state.

Kennedy, the descendent of Bay State political royalty, is up with a new spot this morning that aims to capture the frustration of the younger generations who have been pushing for change. After footage of his great uncle, President John F. Kennedy — “This nation will not be fully free until all its citizens are free” — the spot closes by arguing that “at a watershed moment in American history, Massachusetts needs a senator who can lead the fight for this generation and the next.” It’s an implicit contrast with Markey, who has been in Congress for decades (in the Senate for just more than one term).

But Markey’s new spot, and his campaign message, can best be summed up by a quote from a Massachusetts state senator featured in the ad: “Joe Kennedy’s a good guy, but we already have a senator who is getting the job done.” Along with words of encouragement from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who says that “we need Ed Markey in the Senate now more than ever,” a slew of supporters all declare “I’m sticking with Ed.”

The morning’s round of new ads offers a perfect summation of the message from both sides — will Bay Stater Democrats turn the page on the Markey to usher in a “new generation” of leadership (with a Kennedy), or will they decide that the change agent they seek has been in front of them the whole time?

Return to sender

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy will be testifying in front of the House’s Oversight committee next week over changes he made to the Postal Service that led to the dismantling mail sorting machines and the removal of mail collection boxes. While DeJoy said he would stop implementing those changes until after the election because of the appearance of partisan bent, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after a conversation with DeJoy, that isn’t enough.

“The Postmaster General frankly admitted that he had no intention of replacing the sorting machines, blue mailboxes and other key mail infrastructure that have been removed and that plans for adequate overtime, which is critical for the timely delivery of mail, are not in the works. All of these changes directly jeopardize the election and disproportionately threaten to disenfranchise voters in communities of color,” Pelosi wrote in a statement.

DeJoy didn’t respond to Pelosi’s accusation. The USPS spokesperson just said that “I don’t have comment beyond what the Postmaster General” had previously announced.

You can read more about the latest moves on the postal service here.

The Lid: You’re fired

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at the eight House incumbents who have lost their renomination bids in party primaries so far this cycle.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Miss last night’s highlights? Our live blog has you covered.

A Russian opposition leader is in intensive care after an alleged poisoning.

Kamala Harris’s Indian heritage is in the spotlight.

Mike Bloomberg has a convention slot tonight. Some Democrats aren’t happy about it.

The New York Times talks to some of the Democratic delegates who are stuck cheering for the convention in their living rooms.

The Trump campaign is set to go up with a new digital ad targeting Hunter Biden.

The Supreme Court will hear the Trump administration’s challenge to Obamacare one week after the election.

Former DHS official Miles Taylor says Trump was serious about swapping Puerto Rico for Greenland.

Teachers in New York City are threatening to strike if they have to go back to school without more extensive safety protocols.