Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host. If you live in New York, you have until 9 p.m. to vote in the primary. Find your polling station here, and see live results here tonight.
As I wrote on Day 1 of “On Politics,” we won’t be all-Trump-all-the-time, obsessing over each bit of noise. But sometimes, the president will say or do something that is worthy of … deeper review.
Today is that day.
As emergency responders braced for Hurricane Florence, President Trump decided to spend time disputing the death toll from another catastrophic storm.
Mr. Trump stated (on Twitter, naturally) that 6 to 18 people died from Hurricane Maria last year, rejecting the Puerto Rican government analysis that the storm killed nearly 3,000. He blamed Democrats for padding the death toll “in order to make me look as bad as possible.”
As we’ve seen, if Mr. Trump feels his record is being attacked, he hits back ten times harder.
But there are exaggerations, distortions and false statements. Erasing thousands of tragic deaths falls into another category entirely.
It’s really hard to assess the number of people who die from a storm that has a devastating impact on fundamental needs like water, electricity and medical care. If a bedridden person on a respirator dies because there’s no power for their machine, is that a storm-related death?
In early December 2017, the official death count in Puerto Rico stood at 64. A few months later, several independent investigations, including one by The New York Times, concluded that the death toll was more than 1,000. In May, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine came up with a figure of 4,645.
Those divergent numbers are one reason the Puerto Rican government commissioned the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health to do an independent assessment of the mortality rate. They reached a figure of 2,975 deaths, 22 percent higher than what would have been expected without the storm.
These numbers are estimates by necessity. There’s no way to get a definitive count — no “list” like Trump alleged in his tweet. But they’re our best nonpartisan calculations.
Mr. Trump comes across as trying to take advantage of this uncertainty for political gain. When he traveled to Puerto Rico after the storm, he favorably compared the death toll there to the one during Hurricane Katrina, as a metric for success — something that didn’t sit particularly well with Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans.
“You can’t justifiably say that anything was a success when 3,000 people died,” he told me. “The commander-in-chief needs to be focused on Florence. We can talk about Puerto Rico next week — what we can’t do is talk about Florence next week.”
The irony, as usual, is that what’s good for Mr. Trump might be not-so-great for the Republican Party. Just look at Florida, a battleground state with a sizable Puerto Rican population that has exploded since the storm. (As citizens, Puerto Ricans are eligible to vote immediately.)
Here’s Gov. Rick Scott, a vocal defender of the Trump administration, who’s now running for Senate:
Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor in Florida, won his primary two weeks ago by riding a full-throated endorsement of Mr. Trump. But when asked about the president’s tweets, he said he “doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated.”
Sen. Marco Rubio defended the 3,000 estimate. Speaker Paul Ryan said he had no reason to “dispute” the government’s estimate.
None took a direct shot at Mr. Trump. But even tepid Republican criticism is notable, given the party’s continual reluctance to attack the president, and it seemed to signify that they sense a real political threat
As for Mr. Trump, Republicans don’t expect much of a political fallout for the president.
Preparing for Florence
With Hurricane Florence set to make landfall overnight, we thought it would be interesting to get perspective on what it’s like to manage a major storm. So I called up former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Mr. Landrieu.
Before the storm:
• Communicate clearly about the risk of staying put.
• Get the president’s cellphone number. You want to be able to reach them directly.
• Have pet-friendly shelters. “A lot of people won’t evacuate if they don’t take their pets with them,” Mr. Christie said.
After the storm:
• Restore short-term normalcy. Open roads, deal with water and restore power. “Power is king,” Mr. Landrieu told us.
• Figure out what worked and what didn’t. “Every storm is different. They’re like children. There should be a post-mortem on every one,” Mr. Landrieu said.
• Don’t forget to show empathy. Voters will assess your performance based on whether you show up.
“It’s that sense of presence and empathy that any executive — a governor or a president — has to show in order for people to believe that they understand it and get it,” Mr. Christie said.
Checking in on New York
Zephyr Teachout, candidate for attorney general, stopped by the Alfred E. Smith school on West 97th Street this morning, running behind schedule on an Election Day packed with visits to polling stations.
After a few moments of greeting voters and posing for photos, her staff urged her to head to their next stop. And then a woman with a young daughter called Ms. Teachout over.
Ms. Teachout bended low — no easy task at eight months pregnant — to shake the girl’s hand. She asked the girl if she had ever heard of Wonder Woman, and the girl slowly nodded her head.
“I’m running for a job that has the lasso of truth,” she told her.
• Intelligence tests determine academic opportunities for elementary schoolchildren. Many critics say that they’re unfair, favoring kids who grew up with more books or attended better preschools. Could you get into a gifted program? Take our quiz.
• Seven states bar people with a criminal record from receiving compensation when they themselves are the victims of crime — a policy that affects black families harder than others. Read the story in The Marshall Project.
… Seriously, guys
After tonight, primary season is officially over. Time to celebrate!
Isabella Grullón Paz and Margaret Kramer contributed to this newsletter.
Thanks for reading. Politics is more than what goes on inside the White House. On Politics brings you the people, issues and ideas reshaping our world.
Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at [email protected].