USA

‘12 More Years,’ Crowd Chants, as Trump Jokes in Atlanta

President Trump told an audience in Atlanta Friday that “you can’t joke” as president and complained that when he jests about serving more than two terms he is accused of being “a dictator” who won’t cede power, which prompted his audience to chant “12 more years!”

Speaking at an event focused on Black economic empowerment, Mr. Trump joked that he could deliver more benefits “if only we had a couple more terms.” Then he warned that he was sure to be criticized for the remark.

“There’s your breaking news,” he said, before mimicking the response of a self-serious news commentator: “I told you, he’s a dictator!” he said. “He will not give up power! Under no circumstances will he give up power. He intends to serve at least two more terms.”

“Oh, that’s a big story,” Mr. Trump added, suggesting that his use of sarcasm is often misunderstood. “You know, you can’t joke.”

Mr. Trump has made similar comments in the past, but they seemed particularly significant in a week where he refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of political power and cast doubts on the November election result.

After Mr. Trump said that reporters would accuse him of wanting “12 more years” in office, the audience began a chant of “12 more years!” After letting them continue a few times, Mr. Trump thanked them and quickly resumed his remarks.

Earlier Friday, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, belittled the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for telling Congress that there was no evidence of the kind of widespread voter fraud the president has repeatedly warned of.

The F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, had testified to Congress on Thursday that the bureau had seen no evidence of coordinated fraud, undercutting Mr. Trump’s constant, baseless claims that the election would not be “honest” or that mail-in ballots were a “scam.”

Mr. Meadows struck back Friday on “CBS This Morning.”

“With all due respect to Director Wray, he has a hard time finding emails in his own F.B.I., let alone figuring out whether there’s any kind of voter fraud,” Mr. Meadows said, possibly referring to anti-Trump texts between F.B.I. officials on the team of the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which the F.B.I. has said were not preserved, angering Republicans.

The extraordinary scene of the White House chief of staff denigrating one of the nation’s top law enforcement officials was the latest sign of how the president’s refusal to commit to honoring the results of the presidential election has rattled Washington.

On Thursday, prominent Republicans reaffirmed their commitment to the orderly transfer of power, but took pains to avoid criticizing the president. Democrats cast Mr. Trump as a threat to democracy who sought to undermine confidence in the election and suppress the vote. And the White House attempted to send reassuring signals, only for Mr. Trump, who has trailed steadily in polls, to double down and repeat baseless assertions that the vote would be a “big scam.”

The Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden Jr. said on MSNBC Friday, “The American people aren’t going to be shut down in this election.” Mr. Biden was asked about his plans if he wins and Mr. Trump won’t leave office. “Every vote in this country is going to be heard, they will not be stopped. I’m confident — all of the irresponsible, outrageous attacks on voting — we’ll have an election in this country as we always have had. And he’ll leave.”

President Trump has selected Judge Amy Coney Barrett, the favorite candidate of conservatives, to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and will try to force Senate confirmation before Election Day in a move that would significantly alter the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court for years.

Mr. Trump plans to announce on Saturday that she is his choice, according to people close to the process who asked not to be identified disclosing the decision in advance.

The president met with Judge Barrett at the White House this week and came away impressed with a jurist that leading conservatives told him would be a female Antonin Scalia, referring to the justice who died in 2016 and for whom Judge Barrett clerked.

As they often do, aides cautioned that Mr. Trump sometimes upends his own plans. But he is not known to have interviewed any other candidates for the post.

Judge Barrett graduated summa cum laude from Notre Dame Law School and joined the faculty in 2002, earning praise from colleagues as an astute scholar and jurist even if they did not always agree on her jurisprudential premises.

If she were confirmed, Republicans would achieve a new 6-3 conservative majority on the court. She would be the sitting justice with the least courtroom experience, but one viewed as a home run by conservative Christians and anti-abortion activists. Liberal groups have been sounding the alarm over Judge Barrett for two years because of concerns over how she might rule on abortion and the Affordable Care Act.

In choosing Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative and a hero to the anti-abortion movement, as his nominee to the Supreme Court, Mr. Trump has found the polar opposite of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion of reproductive rights and leader of the liberal wing of the court.

Judge Barrett has been on the bench for only three years, appointed by Mr. Trump to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2017. On Friday, opponents of the nomination criticized the Trump administration for rushing the process and said that Judge Barrett, if confirmed, would vote to restrict access to abortion, gut the Affordable Care Act and reverse progress on marriage equality.

“It’s no surprise Trump would want to nominate Amy Coney Barrett, a judge with a track record of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric,” the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer advocacy group, said in a tweet on Friday. “She’s argued against trans rights, marriage equality and reproductive rights — and she shouldn’t be on the Supreme Court.”

Judge Barrett, a Catholic jurist with solid anti-abortion credentials, is a popular figure among conservative Catholics and other Christians, and some supporters have sought to frame the opposition to her nomination as an attack on her religious beliefs.

“It’s go time!” tweeted Kristan Hawkins, the president of the anti-abortion group Students for Life, on Friday. “Get ready for a post Roe v Wade America!” The March for Life called Judge Barrett “an excellent choice” and “exactly the trailblazer we want to see on the court.”

While it is possible that the nomination could energize Democratic opposition amid a presidential campaign, Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in an appearance on MSNBC that Mr. Trump’s choice could improve his chances of re-election.

“This pick helps,” he said. “I think the Biden campaign and the Democrats need to be smart about how they approach this nominee.”

In a tweet on Friday, Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, called Judge Barrett “a legal trailblazer” who respected the country’s founding principles.

Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, a teacher’s union, said in a statement on Friday that Judge Barrett had “sided with the powerful against workers, allowed racially segregated workplaces, ruled in favor of Trump policies harming immigrants, and against those seeking to protect women from sexual assault.”

Credit...Oliver Contreras for The New York Times

In an effort led by President Trump to create the misleading impression of widespread voter fraud, administration officials have seized on nine mail-in military ballots in a Pennsylvania county that Mr. Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

Federal officials have disclosed that they are investigating whether local officials had discarded nine such ballots, at least seven of which, they said, were cast for Mr. Trump. And a Justice Department official said on Friday that Attorney General William P. Barr personally briefed Mr. Trump this week on the case.

The disclosure of the investigation’s existence was highly unusual and came as Mr. Trump has ramped up his false assertions that widespread mail-in voting is rife with fraud. It prompted elections experts to express fears that political appointees were using the levers of law enforcement to undermine voters’ confidence in the results of the election.

It was not clear whether some of the ballots, which were said to be missing envelopes, could be counted. The Pennsylvania state Supreme Court recently sided with the Trump campaign in a lawsuit seeking to reject all ballots that arrived without the requisite secrecy envelope, which are known as “naked ballots.”

After Mr. Barr briefed him, Mr. Trump publicly referred to the discarded ballots in a radio interview on Thursday, which prompted questions from reporters and, eventually, the Justice Department’s release of details about the investigation.

The disclosures helped feed the misleading narrative by the president and the attorney general that mail-in voting was rife with fraud. Around the time the Justice Department released the details on Thursday, White House and Trump campaign aides pointed to the case as an example of how mail-in voting was undermining the fairness of the election.

The same week the nation’s top officials discussed the fate of the nine ballots, the director of the F.B.I., Christopher A. Wray, testified to Congress that the bureau had not seen evidence of a “coordinated national voter fraud effort.” Any fraud effort would have to be widespread and well coordinated to change the election outcome, and carrying out that kind of fraud would be a “major challenge for an adversary,” Mr. Wray said.

The Justice Department said that the U.S. attorney for central Pennsylvania, David J. Freed, had opened the investigation and that the F.B.I. had been examining the mail-in ballots from military members in Luzerne County in northeastern Pennsylvania that had been “discarded.”

ABC News earlier reported that the attorney general briefed the president.

Credit...Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

A majority of Americans say that the winner of the presidential election should be the one to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, according to a new poll from The Washington Post and ABC News.

Justice Ginsburg died last week, putting enormous new pressure on the two presidential candidates and raising the prospect of a contentious Senate confirmation battle waged alongside the campaign.

President Trump is preparing to reveal his Supreme Court nominee on Saturday, and Senate Republicans have been preparing to hold lightning-quick confirmation hearings ahead of the election. It was a stark reversal from four years ago, when Republicans refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia in an election year, saying a nominee should await the outcome of the election.

According to the survey, most Americans are in no rush this year.

The poll found that 57 percent of respondents said the appointment should be left to the winner of the November election, while 38 percent said the seat should be filled by President Trump and the current Senate.

Responses diverged along partisan lines, with 90 percent of Democrats favoring a nomination after the election, and only 16 percent of Republicans saying the same. Most Independents — 61 percent, according to the poll — favored waiting, as did most women.

The survey, which was produced by Langer Research Associates, had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. It was conducted by phone from Monday through Thursday among a random sample of 1,008 adults.

The results were similar to those of a recent CNN poll, conducted by the research firm SSRS, which found that 59 percent of Americans said the winner of the November election should fill the Supreme Court vacancy.

Republicans appear poised to defy that majority — even if it energizes Democratic turnout in the short run by elevating issues like abortion — as long as it means achieving the long-term goal of tilting the court further to the right.

Credit...Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

A Democratic nonprofit group will spend $2 million over the next two weeks on an ad attacking Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, over his support for quickly filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The ad aligns with a central election issue for Democrats — health care — and argues that a vote for President Trump’s nominee for the court puts the Affordable Care Act at risk, along with protections for pre-existing conditions that are enshrined in the law.

Sources close to the nomination process said on Friday that Mr. Trump had selected Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a favorite of conservatives, to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.

Republican senators facing tough re-election fights have taken markedly different tacks on how to handle the vacancy, with huge risks for their campaigns. Susan Collins of Maine, for example, has said that the nomination should wait until after the election, while others, like Mr. Tillis, have embraced the president’s plan. A recent poll from The Washington Post found that 57 percent of voters nationwide think the nomination should be made by the presidential candidate who wins the election in November.

Mr. Tillis was one of the first vulnerable Republican senators to take a position on filling the vacancy, announcing within 24 hours of Justice Ginsburg’s death that he supported the president’s efforts to fill the seat before the election. In one of the most tightly contested races in the country, Mr. Tillis is running to hold on to a seat that could decide which party controls the Senate.

A recent poll from The New York Times/Siena College found Mr. Tillis trailing his Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham, by five points. Mr. Trump, however, was effectively tied with Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the state, meaning Mr. Tillis was running a few points behind the president, and likely hoping that support for his Supreme Court choice could help close that gap.

The ad is being run by Piedmont Rising, a left-leaning group that spent most of the year focused on health care before announcing earlier this month that it would devote its resources to defeating Mr. Tillis through an affiliated group, Piedmont Rising Action.

Credit...Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Trump has initiated the most aggressive environmental deregulation agenda in modern history, but as his first term drives to a close, many of his policies are being cut down by the courts — even by Republican-appointed jurists who the administration had hoped would be friendly.

Those losses have actually heightened the stakes for Mr. Trump in the election and the fight over a replacement on the Supreme Court for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A second term, coupled with a 6-3 conservative majority on the high court, may be necessary to make some of his biggest environmental rollbacks a reality.

Since January courts have dealt a series of blows to the Trump administration’s plans to ramp up fossil fuel development and undo decades of environmental protections. This month, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked implementation of a major rollback of methane emissions standards for the oil and gas industry while it considers permanent action. That followed decisions by judges that have thrown the future of the Dakota Access Pipeline into doubt, struck down the relaxation of protections for migratory birds and vacated the rollback of an Obama-era rule to reduce waste from natural gas flaring on federal lands.

Five recent unfavorable rulings came from Republican-appointed judges, including a 6-3 clean water decision in April by the Supreme Court with Justice Ginsburg in the majority. A panel of three judges appointed by Mr. Trump unanimously overturned a policy that would have suspended hefty new penalties for automakers who failed to meet fuel efficiency standards.

According to a database kept by New York University’s nonpartisan Institute for Policy Integrity, the Environmental Protection Agency has won only nine out of 47 cases in court under Mr. Trump, while the Interior Department has won four of 22. The Trump administration’s overall win rate hovers just under 16 percent, the group said, compared to win rates of about 70 percent for both the Obama and Bush administrations.

But the courts have in most cases given the administration an opportunity to go back and revise their work. The future of those rules may then rest on whether Mr. Trump is re-elected, with a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court ready to hear his fresh attempts.

Credit...Lauren Justice for The New York Times

With less than six weeks until Election Day, laws governing how Americans vote remain in flux in many battleground states, with the two parties fighting over rules and President Trump suggesting he might challenge any unfavorable outcome.

The combination of the pandemic and doubts about the capacity of the Postal Service to handle the flood of mail ballots it will bring, along with a push by Democrats to expand access to voting and counter Republican efforts to limit it, has fueled lawsuits and legislative skirmishes that remain unresolved even with early voting underway.

The result is uncertainty that Mr. Trump seized on this week to cast doubt on the election, refusing on Wednesday to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and saying on Thursday that he was not sure the November election could be “honest” because mail-in ballots were “a whole big scam.”

In many states, confusion over casting and counting ballots has reached levels rarely before seen.

In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, two pivotal states in the presidential election, legal fights could affect when voters have to mail their ballots. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, there are lawsuits about where voters can drop ballots off.

In Michigan, another battleground, pending legislation concerns whether voters will be able to fix problems with mail-in ballots. In North Carolina, after elections officials extended the deadline for receiving mail ballots by six days, Republicans pledged to try to overturn it.

“A whole bunch of Americans are going to have a different process than they may be used to,” said Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School who oversaw voting rights in the Obama administration as a deputy assistant attorney general.

Credit...Rungroj Yongrit/EPA, via Shutterstock

BANGKOK — Amid the pandemic and in the run-up to the presidential election, much of the world is watching the United States with a mix of shock, chagrin and, most of all, bafflement.

How did a superpower allow itself to be felled by a virus? And after nearly four years during which President Trump has praised authoritarian leaders and obscenely dismissed some other countries as insignificant and crime-ridden, is the United States in danger of exhibiting some of the same traits he has disparaged?

“The U.S.A. is a first-world country but it is acting like a third-world country,” said U Aung Thu Nyein, a political analyst in Myanmar.

Adding to the sense of bewilderment, Mr. Trump has refused to embrace an indispensable principle of democracy, dodging questions about whether he will commit to a peaceful transition of power after the November election should he lose.

His demurral, combined with his frequent attacks on the balloting process, led Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, a Republican, to write on Twitter that the peaceful transition of power is fundamental to democracy. “Without that, there is Belarus,” he wrote.

In Belarus, where tens of thousands of people have faced down the police after the widely disputed re-election last month of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, Mr. Trump’s remarks sounded familiar.

“It reminds me of Belarus, when a person cannot admit defeat and looks for any means to prove that he couldn’t lose,” said Kiryl Kalbasnikau, a 29-year-old opposition activist and actor. “This would be a warning sign for any democracy.”

The diminution of the United States’ global image began before the pandemic, as Trump administration officials snubbed international accords and embraced an America First policy. Now, though, its reputation seems to be in free-fall.

A Pew Research Center poll of 13 countries found that over the past year, nations including Canada, Japan, Australia and Germany have been viewing the United States in its most negative light in years. In every country surveyed, the vast majority of respondents thought the United States was doing a bad job with the pandemic.

Such global disapproval historically has applied to countries with less open political systems and strongmen in charge. But people from just the kind of developing countries that Mr. Trump has mocked say the signs coming from the United States are ominous: a disease unchecked, mass protests over racial and social inequality, and a president who seems unwilling to pledge support for the tenets of electoral democracy.

And an American passport, which once allowed easy access to almost every country in the world, is no longer a valuable travel pass. Because of the coronavirus, American tourists are banned from most of Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and Latin America.

Credit...Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Voters were more likely to pick former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. over President Trump this November in three battleground states, according to a Fox News poll released Thursday.

Mr. Biden led Mr. Trump by 11 percentage points in Nevada and seven percentage points in Pennsylvania, while voters in Ohio favored him by only five percentage points over Mr. Trump. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus three points.

When asked who would do a better job in nominating the next justice, likely voters in all three states said they would prefer Mr. Biden to make the selection. In Nevada, voters favored Mr. Biden on this question by 10 percentage points; in Ohio, six points; and in Pennsylvania, nine points.

All respondents were surveyed between Sept. 20 and Sept. 23, after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and before the news broke on Friday that Mr. Trump had chosen Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee.

But other polls show that the Supreme Court nomination will not have much impact on the election. In Texas, Iowa and Georgia, voters said in the most recent New York Times/Siena College polls that the sudden opening of a Supreme Court seat, and the battle to fill it, had not affected the race for the White House. Nor did the polls find much reason to think that the nomination fight would shift the race in the weeks ahead.

When it comes to the pandemic, likely voters in Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania told Fox News they believed Mr. Biden would do a better job of dealing with it, by a wide margin: 15 percentage points in Nevada, 14 points in Ohio and 17 points in Pennsylvania.

In all three states, more than half of respondents said that they disapproved of the job Mr. Trump has done while in office.

And in all three states women, voters under the age of 35, seniors 65 and over and people of color were more likely to choose Mr. Biden. Suburban voters said they would pick Mr. Biden by 10 percentage points, while rural voters said they would vote for Mr. Trump by seven points.

White voters without a college degree said they preferred Mr. Trump by seven percentage points. Among these voters in 2016 — who made up 44 percent of all voters — Trump won by more than two to one, the Pew Research Center found in 2018.

Credit...Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Speaking to an African-American audience in Atlanta, President Trump attacked the Black Lives Matter movement as “an organization whose ideology and tactics are right now destroying many Black lives” and attacked his Democratic rival, Joseph. R Biden, Jr., as an enemy of the Black community.

“It’s really hurting the Black community,” Mr. Trump said of Black Lives Matter, as his audience booed the mention of its name. “Those pushing to defund the police are hurting Black communities the most.”

Speaking at what his campaign called a “Black economic empowerment” event, Mr. Trump promised African-Americans vast economic gains in a second Trump term through what he called a “Platinum Plan,” but offered few policy details and had little of substance to say about the national debate around institutional racism.

The Platinum Plan released by the Trump campaign on Friday mostly offered vague goals and pledges, including promises to increase lending to Black businesses and entrepreneurs and to promote “accountable models of policing, including diversity training and accreditation standards.”

The plan also vows to prosecute the Ku Klux Klan and Antifa “as terrorist organizations and make lynching a national hate crime.” It is unclear why Antifa, a vaguely defined movement with no record of racism, was included in the plan.

The plan also pledges support for making Juneteenth a national holiday.

Mr. Trump vowed to bring even “greater fairness to the criminal justice system,” boasting of the reform legislation he signed in early 2019 reducing sentences for many nonviolent offenders. “Even my enemies are saying, ‘Thank you for that,’” Mr. Trump said.

He said that the measure had rolled back provisions of the 1994 federal crime legislation, which former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., then a senator, helped write. Mr. Trump called the measure the “1994 Biden crime bill.”

Mr. Trump was introduced at the event by the former professional football star Herschel Walker, who began his career playing for the New Jersey Generals, the United States Football League team owned by Mr. Trump in the 1980s. “He don’t get all the credit that he deserves for all the things that he’s done in the African-American community,” Mr. Walker said of Mr. Trump. “He keeps God in the house.”

Many voting rules have changed this year because of the pandemic, making it harder than usual to figure out how to cast your ballot. So we did the work for you, in hopes of helping make sure your vote is counted.

Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg broke one final barrier on Friday, becoming the first woman and the first Jewish American to lie in state in the United States Capitol.

The honor, arranged by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and a private ceremony at the Capitol, bring to a close a week of public memorials for Justice Ginsburg, the liberal Supreme Court jurist and trailblazer who died last Friday at 87. Her family plans to hold a private burial next week at Arlington National Cemetery.

Like the memorial at the court on Wednesday, the honors Friday at the Capitol were brief and mostly limited to family and a small contingent of lawmakers.

Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his wife, Jill Biden, attended Friday’s the ceremony, along with Senator Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate.

Asked by a reporter if Justice Ginsburg had helped clear a path for her own success, Ms. Harris said “absolutely.”

Justice Ginsburg “made America see what leadership looks like,” Ms. Harris said. “She broke so many barriers and I know that she did it intentionally knowing that people like me could follow.”

Only about 30 Americans have received the honor of lying in state at the Capitol: presidents, military leaders and members of Congress, all of them men. Rosa Parks, the civil rights icon, is the only other woman granted a similar honor, but as a private citizen, she lay “in honor.”

Justice Ginsburg lay in state in the National Statuary Hall on the House side of the Capitol, where Democrats are in control. Many dignitaries have lain in state in the Capitol Rotunda, between the House and Senate, but both chambers must agree and pass special legislation to allow that.

On Thursday, President Trump was jeered by protesters as he paid his respects to Justice Ginsburg, standing silently by her coffin at the top of the Supreme Court steps as a vigorous chant of “Vote him out!” erupted on the street below.

As Justice Ginsburg’s legacy was celebrated at the Capitol, White House officials and Senate Republicans busied themselves on Friday with preparations of their own to usher in a conservative successor to the Supreme Court with remarkable speed.

Credit...Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

Senior Pentagon leaders have a lot to worry about these days — Afghanistan, Russia, Iraq, Syria, Iran, China, Somalia, the Korean Peninsula. But chief among those concerns is whether their commander in chief might order American troops into any chaos around the coming elections.

President Trump gave the officials no solace this week as he hedged when asked to commit to a peaceful handoff of the reins of government should he lose the election. Coupled with his expressed desire in June to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act to send troops to quell Black Lives Matter protests, his comments have incited deep anxiety among senior military leaders, who insist they will do all they can to keep the armed forces out of the elections.

“I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told House lawmakers last month. “In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law, U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. military. I foresee no role for the U.S. armed forces in this process.”

But that has not stopped an intensifying debate in the military about its role should a disputed election lead to civil unrest.

Last month, two retired Army officers published an open letter to General Milley on the website Defense One. “In a few months’ time, you may have to choose between defying a lawless president or betraying your constitutional oath,” they wrote. “If Donald Trump refuses to leave office at the expiration of his constitutional term, the United States military must remove him by force, and you must give that order.”

Pentagon officials swiftly said such an outcome was preposterous. But senior leaders at the Pentagon, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that they were talking among themselves about what to do if Mr. Trump, who will still be president until Inauguration Day no matter what, invokes the Insurrection Act and tries to send troops into the streets.

Several Pentagon officials said that such a move could prompt resignations among many of Mr. Trump’s senior generals, starting at the top with General Milley.

Ad Watch

Is it a trailer for an action movie? A Hollywood thriller?

At first glance, the four-minute clip resembles an ad for a big-budget film, featuring the dramatic music and special effects — sky-diving! some sort of scanning technology emitted from a character’s eye! — that typically herald a highly-anticipated movie release.

It is in fact a destined-for-virality six-candidate campaign ad, released on Thursday by Texas Reloaded, a joint fund-raising Republican committee for House races in Texas.

It’s 5 a.m. in the “Crenshaw Command Center,” and Representative Dan Crenshaw of Houston, a former Navy SEAL, tears open an envelope marked “TOP SECRET.” Inside is a phone. Mr. Crenshaw, who wears an eye patch because of an injury he suffered in Afghanistan, lifts his patch and emits a laser to decipher the phone’s instructions.

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, will be to save Texas,” says a woman’s vaguely robotic, vaguely British voice. “To do so, you must recruit an exceptional team of congressional candidates. They must be courageous, patriotic and absolutely fearless. Time is of the essence. The nation’s future is dependent on your success.”

Mr. Crenshaw, now in a plane, leaps into the sky as his first “target” appears: Wesley Hunt, a Republican candidate in a district next door and West Point graduate, whom Mr. Crenshaw finds in the cockpit of a helicopter. “I’m putting a team together, Wesley, you in?” Mr. Crenshaw asks.

The two men form a trio with August Pfluger, who is running in the west-central 11th District, and recruit three others: Beth Van Duyne, a former mayor who is running in the Dallas suburbs; Tony Gonzales, a Navy veteran running in a district along the Mexican border; and Genevieve Collins, also running in a suburban-Dallas district, whose credentials flashed onscreen include “athlete.”

“TEAM ASSEMBLED. AWAITING NEXT OBJECTIVE” scrolls across the screen. A final shot of the candidates walking together as a fiery explosion erupts behind them closes out the ad.

The ad is unequivocally intended to energize Republicans in Texas.

Though the ad is somewhat hyperbolic — the nation’s future might not literally depend on Mr. Crenshaw’s ability to recruit Republican congressional candidates — the urgency it suggests is not off base. Texas this year features a number of competitive House races, and Democrats are optimistic that the state could eventually flip from red to blue.

Of the six races referenced in the ad, five, including Mr. Crenshaw’s, are ranked by the Cook Political Report as competitive.

“We are relying almost exclusively on organic reach on social media,” said Justin Discigil, a spokesman for the Crenshaw campaign. “We have no plans to put the ad on TV.”

The ad seems to address head-on that fact Texas is not as red as it once was. Several of the Democratic candidates in these districts, including Sima Ladjevardian, a lawyer and progressive activist who is challenging Mr. Crenshaw, are thought to have decent shots at winning.

Mr. Discigil said in an email that Texas Reloaded has raised more than $215,000 since the ad came out. Asked how much the ad cost to make, he said only, “The ad has already paid for itself many times over.”

Google told advertisers on Friday that it would ban political ads after the Nov. 3 election, allowing time for the results to be tallied. During the ban, advertisers will not be allowed to run ads that reference candidates, the election or its results, Google said.

Although the new policy will likely be temporary, Google has not said how long it will prevent advertisers from publishing election-related content on its platforms. Axios first reported Google’s decision.

“Given the likelihood of delayed election results this year, when polls close on November 3, we will pause ads referencing the 2020 election, the candidates, or its outcome,” said Charlotte Smith, a spokeswoman for Google. “This is a temporary measure, and we’ll notify advertisers when this policy is lifted.”

Google has previously issued temporary bans to prevent the spread of misinformation. In March and April, the company banned ads that referenced the coronavirus in an effort to tamp down on price-gouging for masks and other protective gear.

The policy change comes as tech platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter are under increased scrutiny for their political ad policies.

Critics have warned that social media ads could be a potent source of misinformation and argued that candidates should rely on the organic spread of their messages on social media, as opposed to buying exposure on the platforms. Earlier this month, Facebook announced that it would ban political ads during the week leading up to Election Day. Last year, Twitter permanently banned political ads.

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