Biden’s Vulnerability

And what else you need to know today.


Want to get The Morning by email? Here’s the sign-up.

Good morning. Fires are choking the American West. Trump holds an indoor rally. And a new poll shows one way that Biden is vulnerable.
Joe Biden at a Sept. 11 memorial service in Manhattan.Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

The latest New York Times/Siena College poll showed Joe Biden to be leading President Trump in four important swing states. But it also showed how Biden could lose the election.

If the campaign is a referendum on the coronavirus, Trump will probably lose. The U.S. has suffered more than almost any other rich country, as many voters realize. When new outbreaks were exploding this summer, Biden’s lead grew to almost 10 percentage points.

But the other issue that’s dominated the news in recent months — the combination of police violence, racial injustice, peaceful protests and rising crime in many cities — is more politically complicated. It has the potential to hurt both Trump and Biden, in different ways. And so far, Biden has not managed to send voters a persuasive message that protects his vulnerabilities.

Perhaps the most surprising finding from the poll was this: In the four swing states — Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin — a larger share of voters said “addressing law and order” was a more important campaign issue to them than said “addressing the coronavirus pandemic” was.

On first glance, these law-and-order concerns may still seem to help Biden. More voters trust him to do a better job on several related issues — including violent crime, unifying the country and handling the protests — than trust Trump. But it’s not quite that simple.

Remember: Most Americans have already made up their minds about the election. Their answers to poll questions about which candidate they trust on specific issues are almost meaningless at this point. The bigger issue is how undecided and uncommitted voters feel.

Biden’s problem is that, on the broad issues of crime and policing, he appears to have a larger group of soft supporters — people who could flip — than Trump does. As Nate Cohn, a Times reporter who helped oversee the poll, told me, “There is definitely some Biden support with worry about crime.” Those worries span Black, Latino and white voters.

Consider these poll questions, all of which show a larger share of Biden supporters giving the answers that the Trump campaign would like to hear than vice versa:
Based on a New York Times/Siena College poll of likely voters from Sept. 8 to Sept. 11.

Biden does have potential ways to address these weaknesses. A large share of people say they think he supports defunding the police — a position Biden rejects but one he evidently has not been clear enough about. (The vagueness of “defund the police,” and whether it means abolish or reduce police funding, is part of his challenge.) A majority of poll respondents also said Biden “hasn’t done enough to condemn violent rioting.” Even 27 percent of his own supporters gave that answer.

Every political campaign is a mixture of offense and defense. For Biden, there are obvious ways to go on the offense — about the virus, Biden’s economic agenda, Trump’s inflaming of racism and his incitement of chaos during protests. But the complex swirl of issues around those protests, including violence and the future of policing, also creates some problems for Biden.

He hasn’t yet solved them. That’s one reason that the campaign has not turned into the rout that seemed possible this summer.

More election news:

Daniel Verner inspected the burned remains of his home in Talent, Ore.Alisha Jucevic for The New York Times

1. Fires continue to spread in Oregon

At least 24 people have now died in the wildfires scorching the West Coast. Authorities have turned fairgrounds into refugee camps for people who have been forced from their homes. And the air is clogged with smoke. The Times’s Thomas Fuller and Jack Healy write that much of the American West has become “a hellish landscape of smoke and ash.”

“Fundamentally the science is very, very simple,” Philip Duffy, the president of a climate research center, said, explaining the role climate change plays in the fires. “Warmer and drier conditions create drier fuel,” he said. “What would have been a fire easily extinguished now just grows very quickly and becomes out of control.”

One family’s tragedy: The Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore., tells the story of a father’s attempt to save his wife and 13-year-old son.

2. A Midwestern surge

Coronavirus cases have soared in the Midwest even as cases are largely falling across the South, the Northeast and the West, as these Times charts show. The Midwestern surge is partly the result of young adults getting sick on college campuses. Cases have also been linked to a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., last month and to a jail in Wichita, Kan.

In other virus news:

Here’s what else is happening
Players for the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks kneeling before Sunday’s game.Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

IDEA OF THE DAY: Business responsibility

Fifty years ago this past weekend, The Times Magazine published an essay by the economist Milton Friedman that became highly influential.

It had a plain-spoken headline — “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits” — and argued that corporate executives should stop worrying about paying high wages, protecting the environment and other do-gooderism. They could best help society, Friedman argued, by maximizing the value of their companies.
The economist Milton Friedman believed government should keep its hands off the economy.PBS

The essay helped lay the groundwork for a laissez-faire revolution, in the U.S. and elsewhere. In the years since, many American companies have prospered, with soaring profits and stock prices — but there have also been big downsides. The incomes and wealth of most American workers have grown slowly. Some other measures of well-being, like life expectancy, have also stagnated. The planet is facing the destructive crisis of global warming.

For the essay’s 50th anniversary, The Times invited executives, economists and others — both defenders and critics of Friedman — to reflect on the essay. As part of the package, the author Kurt Andersen argues that 1960s liberalism made Friedman possible.

Christopher Testani for The New York Times

Make a dinner staple

To start off the week, we recommend a flavorful one-pot recipe for chicken with shallots. Our colleague Adam Pasick says: “I have made this recipe dozens of times over the last few years, and it never fails, even if you’re missing a few ingredients. The shallots melt into the white wine and mustard to make the most delicious sauce. Pro tip: Don’t skimp on browning the chicken.”

The future of fashion

New York Fashion Week began yesterday, with most of the shows going digital. The Times’s chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman spoke with four insiders, including Virgil Abloh, of Off-White and Louis Vuitton men’s wear, and Gwyneth Paltrow, of Goop, about whether fashion shows have become obsolete, whether trends still exist and whether sweatpants will rule for the foreseeable future.
The boys of the title are a group of renegades seeking vengeance against the “supes.”Jasper Savage/Amazon Studios, via Associated Press

The superhero genre, deconstructed

My colleague Sanam Yar recommends tuning into Amazon’s action series “The Boys”:

“The Boys” is not your standard superhero vehicle. Based on a comic book series, the satire operates in a world where superheroes are real, beloved by the public and deeply corrupt. The titular boys are a group hellbent on exposing the evils of so-called supes and Vought, the multibillion-dollar corporation that manages them.

The show isn’t for everyone: It’s vicious and graphic, regularly dealing in brutal spectacles like a boat ramming through a whale. But it’s also smart and irreverent. The fantastical elements lend themselves well to wrestling with real-world issues, like celebrity worship, #MeToo and corporate greed. And the second season, with its focus on white nationalism and distrust of authority, makes the show feel especially timely.



Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: It can move at 186,000 miles per second (five letters).

You can find all of our puzzles here.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. The word “semiquincentennial” — referring to the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States, which will occur in 2026 — appeared for the first time in The Times this weekend, as noted by the Twitter bot @NYT_first_said.

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about a new documentary that examines the operations of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. On the latest Book Review podcast, Brian Stelter talks Trump and Fox News.

Lalena Fisher, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at

Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.