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Biden: Difficult to Imagine Having Democratic Convention as Scheduled

Joe Biden, who is the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination for president, said yesterday that he wouldn't be surprised if the Democratic National Convention, currently scheduled for July 13-16, was postponed. Biden noted that the Democrats and Republicans had their conventions throughout the Civil War and throughout WW I and WW II, but the current enemy is a bigger threat to domestic public health than the armies of the Confederacy, Germany, and Japan were.

If the convention did go forward as planned, all of the country's top Democrats, 4,000 delegates, and a vast number of reporters and media personalities would all be cramped together in a tight space. It is inevitable that some of them would have COVID-19 and before long many of them, maybe most, would have it. If you've ever watched the conventions, you will have seen that they are not overly populated by spring chickens, so a wide-scale outbreak among attendees could turn ugly.

There are two potential approaches, neither of them very attractive. The first is to postpone the convention by a month or so. The trouble is that until Biden is formally nominated, the primaries are still on. If he wants to, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), could continue to wage his campaign, even if people start making jokes comparing him to Harold Stassen. The later the convention is, the harder it will be to unify the Party and the longer Donald Trump can exploit the schism within the Party.

Another problem with delaying the convention is that people can donate $2,800 to Biden in the primary and another $2,800 in the general election. He can't start tapping the general-election funds until he is actually nominated. The shorter the general-election season is, the less time he has to raise money.

The second approach to the convention is to virtualize it. Instead of packing 7,000 or more people in a big arena in Milwaukee, the Democrats could do the whole thing on television and the Internet. Politicians could give speeches that would be broadcast on the DNC's website and for some important ones, national television. The television part would be easy. The politicians could still give speeches in the hall. It's just that the audience would consist of a dozen camera operators, sound engineers, and stage crew members, and that's all.

The highlight of each convention is the roll call. The roll call would have to be different. Normally, each state gets to make a short plug for itself in the form of statements like "Alaska, the biggest state in the country and the one with the most polar bears, is proud to cast x votes for Joe Biden and y votes for Bernie Sanders." And on and on until we get: "Wyoming, the most rectangular state (if you don't count Colorado) and the one with the most geysers proudly casts x votes for Joe Biden and y votes for Bernie Sanders." Lots of cheering follows and many balloons are seen. The state chairs can still make their statements from remote studios, but the stock of the balloon manufacturers will take a big hit. Still, it can be done. But the excitement will be lost. For the Democrats, marginal voters who don't follow politics at all and vote for the party with the most balloons, will be lost. DNC Chairman Tom Perez, in consultation with Biden, Sanders, and leading party officials, will have to make the call, and probably sooner rather than later.

Remember, the goal of each national convention is to get the base all excited and convince the fence sitters that their candidate is The One. That will be a lot harder with a virtual convention. The Republicans have their convention in Charlotte 6 weeks later. In principle they have the same problem, only by the end of August, the virus situation might be better. Also, Donald Trump may decide he wants to address thousands of cheering partisans, even if half of them might get sick and some of them might die. And there is no one to override him. (V)

Sanders Wants Wisconsin to Postpone Its Primary

Wisconsin is scheduled to vote next Tuesday, April 7. Yesterday, Bernie Sanders called on Wisconsin to postpone the primary. Sanders said: "People should not be forced to put their lives on the line to vote, which is why 15 states are now following the advice of public health experts and delaying their elections."

Clearly the Senator has people's health in mind, something Donald Trump doesn't. Kudos to him. We don't know, however, if his interest in postponing the Wisconsin election was influenced in any way by a new Marquette Law School poll of Wisconsin Democrats released yesterday showing Joe Biden crushing him 62% to 34%, with only 4% still undecided. If Sanders happened to get a glimpse of that poll, he might also have thought that another crushing defeat wouldn't be helpful to his campaign, especially since the only other primary left in April is the Ohio mail-in primary, which ends April 28. Thus if Wisconsin goes forward with an election on Tuesday, the calls for him to drop out will get louder and louder until the Ohio results are in. They may be just as bad, and so may give Sanders no respite from the pressure upon him.

The big question is: "What does Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) want to do?" So far, he is still planning to go forward with in-person voting for those people who haven't sent in an absentee ballot yet. He would prefer to send every voter in the state an absentee ballot, but Republicans, who control the state legislature, have balked. If the election goes forward, as it probably will, it will be a challenge. The state is short 7,000 poll workers, 1.5 million disinfecting wipes, and 1.5 million pens (so each voter gets a fresh, uninfected pen).

A key reason that Evers doesn't want to postpone the election is that the state supreme court is currently deadlocked 3-3 on a case that would purge more than 200,000 voters from the rolls. Donald Trump won the state in 2016 by 23,000 votes. The state supreme court election on Tuesday pits incumbent Daniel Kelly against challenger Jill Karofsky. The candidates are officially nonpartisan, but Kelly is clearly a conservative and Karofsky is clearly a liberal. Evers knows that because the Democratic nomination is still not determined, many Democrats will show up to vote for either Biden or Sanders and then vote for Karofsky. If the election is delayed, the Democratic nomination may be all over by the time the election is held, and then many fewer Democrats will show up to vote, allowing Kelly to win and the court to purge 200,000 voters. Currently the court has a 5-2 conservative majority, but Kelly didn't vote on the voter purge case and one conservative voted against the purge. If Karofsky wins, the conservatives will have only a 4-3 majority going forward and could lose that majority in 2023.

The lesson: If you aren't good at playing 3D chess, maybe governor is not a good job for you. (V)

Can Trump Postpone the Election?

Now that many states have moved their primaries to May or June, people are starting to ask if Donald Trump could postpone the Nov. 3 election until next year. The short answer, which we've talked about before, is: "No." The long answer, which we've also talked about before, is: "Also no, but with an explanation." First, Election Day is set by federal law. This year it is Nov. 3. It would take an act of Congress to change it, and House Democrats are not going to sign off on a change. Second, the terms of the president and vice president expire at noon on Jan. 20, 2021. Period. No matter what. If no president and vice president have been selected according to law by then, the normal rules of succession kick in. If the House has elected a new Speaker, he or she becomes president. Otherwise, it is the president pro tempore of the Senate.

But the real reason Trump can't postpone the election is that it is not controlled by the federal government. It is controlled by the 50 states and Washington, DC. The only thing that is definite is that the presidential electors will meet in their respective state capitals on Dec. 14 to cast their electoral votes. Beyond that, things get a little fuzzy, since there are 50 different states (plus Washington, DC) with different sets of rules, and different political situations. So, there are a whole bunch of ways this could theoretically play out. However, it's hard to come up with one that produces the result Trump would be looking for, namely short-circuiting the system in order to secure his reelection.

Just hypothetically speaking, suppose Trump's internal polls in late October showed that he was going to lose, so as a Hail Mary, he announced the election was going to be postponed a year. What would happen? Generally, the governor and/or the top election official in a state (usually the secretary of state) are allowed to move the election by a few weeks in the case of an emergency. In most states, the governor and secretary of state are from the same party, so it would generally be the governor's call.

If Trump did try to cancel or postpone the election, the Democratic governors would promptly say: "Sorry, Mr. President, no can do" and would hold the elections as scheduled. How might that work out? Currently, 24 states have Democratic governors, and Washington, DC, has a Democratic mayor. Here they are, with electoral votes:

State Governor/Mayor EVs
California Gavin Newsom 55
Colorado Jared Polis 9
Connecticut Ned Lamont 7
Delaware John Carney 3
Hawaii David Ige 4
Illinois J.B. Pritzker 20
Kansas Laura Kelly 6
Kentucky Andy Beshear 8
Louisiana John Bel Edwards 8
Maine Janet Mills 4
Michigan Gretchen Whitmer 16
Minnesota Tim Walz 10
Montana Steve Bullock 3
Nevada Steve Sisolak 6
New Jersey Phil Murphy 14
New Mexico Michelle Lujan Grisham 5
New York Andrew Cuomo 29
North Carolina Roy Cooper 15
Oregon Kate Brown 7
Pennsylvania Tom Wolf 20
Rhode Island Gina Raimondo 4
Virginia Ralph Northam 13
Washington Jay Inslee 12
Washington, DC Muriel Bowser 3
Wisconsin Tony Evers 10
Total   291

If all these states voted Democratic and the Republican-led states didn't vote at all, the Democratic nominee would have 291 electoral votes, and be elected president. End of story. However, three of the states with Democratic governors are reliable red states: Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. The Democratic governors got elected because there was something seriously wrong with the Republican who ran against them. So, we have to subtract 22 EVs from the 291 and get 269. That's one EV shy of a majority (270), even if the Democrats win purple and/or red-leaning states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Montana, etc.

And now, it's time to get into the weeds. Again, it's pretty easy to predict what Democratic governors would do if Trump tried to postpone the election so as to keep himself in office (executive summary: they would tell him to shove it). A little bit harder is predicting what Republican governors would do. There may be a few who would hide under their desks and meekly say: "Whatever you say, Mr. President." But it's not going to be anywhere near unanimous, for at least three reasons:

  • No elections means no elections: If the presidential election is postponed, then the whole election has to be postponed. There is no politically salable way to announce: "It's too dangerous to hold a presidential election, but we'll still be casting ballots for comptroller, dogcatcher, and District 5 water supervisor." During primary season, there have already been plenty of examples (see Wisconsin, above, for one) where leaving an electoral contest unresolved was unpalatable. That problem gets much worse in a general election. Depending on exactly how state law is written, a cancellation/postponement could leave a state without a functioning legislature, with major statewide offices unfilled, with judicial offices unfilled, with no representation in the House of Representatives, and maybe even down one U.S. Senator. Even in Trump-loving states, would the politicians decide it's worth it?

  • Putting themselves out of a job: As an adjunct to the above point, there are six Republican governors running for reelection this year (in IN, MO, NH, ND, VT, and WV). If they postpone the election, then their terms will end, and they will have to move out of their respective governors' mansions. Maybe they get reelected once the election is held, but maybe they don't. Certainly, being out of office for 3-12 months, and participating in anti-democratic shenanigans to help Donald Trump, cannot be good things for a governor's reelection bid.

  • Governors who are not members of Team Trump: There are also a number of Republican governors who hold Trump at arm's length, and are not likely to be interested in taking his orders. Govs. Larry Hogan (MD) and Charlie Baker (MA) head this list, but Mike DeWine (OH), Gary Herbert (UT) and several others are probably on it, too.

You might notice that several of the Republican governors who are not likely to play ball with Trump happen to represent blue states. If Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maryland went forward with their elections, which is a near-certainty, that would add 24 EVs to the Democratic tally from above, which might well be enough to put the Democratic candidate over the top. If not, the House would pick the president, with each state getting one vote. That is, assuming a quorum (218) was present. If all the states with Democratic governors held normal House elections and filled all their House seats, there would be 240 members in the House, which is a quorum. If Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maryland followed suit, that would push the total to 258 members. The Democrats would undoubtedly control the most state delegations under these conditions and would elect the Democratic nominee.

In short, if the President were to try to postpone the election, he'd only have the ear of some Republican governors, who would be at risk of plunging their state governments into chaos, aggravating voters, and, in some cases, putting themselves out of power...all in service of a scheme that cannot actually work. Of course, the Republican governors can also make this calculation, so even if they and many of their fellow citizens love Trump, they're not likely to abide by Trump's wishes/orders, because the math just doesn't add up.

There is one other wild card that should be mentioned. We've previously linked to this article from Slate's Mark Joseph Stern. He points out that the Constitution allows state legislatures to appoint state electors with no input from voters whatsoever. This is true. He also points out that there are 28 Republican-controlled legislatures, representing states with 294 EVs. So, in theory, those 28 legislatures could use COVID-19 as an excuse to forego voting, and could hand Trump reelection.

On careful examination, however, this route isn't much likelier than the governors route. It too runs into problems:

  • No elections means no elections: Again, there is no politically salable way to announce that only the presidential election will be canceled. There would be riots in the streets. And if the entire election is canceled, then these 28 legislatures would be causing the same problems we outline above, and putting themselves (temporarily?) out of office, en masse.

  • Governors who won't play ball, part I: While legislatures may have the constitutional power to award electors, it's governors (and secretaries of state) that have the power to change election dates, as we note above. There are more than 270 EVs worth of Republican-controlled state legislatures. There are not 270 EVs worth of Republican-controlled state legislatures in states with Republican governors. If you remove the eight states with Republican-controlled legislatures and Democratic governors, and their 86 EVs, you're left with 208 EVs, which is nowhere near enough for election.

  • Governors who won't play ball, part II: In addition to not having the power to control election dates, it is also the case that the current process for awarding electors is enshrined into law in all 50 states, and in DC (see here for an overview). If the 28 Republican-controlled legislatures were to decide that the governors may move forward with the elections, but that they are still going to invoke their constitutional right to choose electors, they would have to change state law in order to do so. And again, there aren't enough states with Republican-controlled legislatures and Republican governors/veto-proof majorities to get to 270 EVs.

The conclusion, then, is that there is no viable way for Donald Trump to game the system, COVID-19 or no COVID-19. If he wants a second term, he's going to have to do it the old-fashioned way: with Russian assistance. (V & Z)

Trump Confronts a New Reality

Yesterday, we presented a table showing how many Americans have died in various wars and other crises. Five weeks ago, the COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. was 60 and Donald Trump said: "This is like a flu." The briefing he gave on Tuesday made it clear that in the best case scenario, the government expects that more Americans will die of COVID-19 than died in the Vietnam and Korean wars combined. Again, that is the best case scenario. This reality is beginning to sink in, and Trump realizes that even the best case could be disastrous for him in November if people think he botched the response. And he certainly does not want to think what would happen to him if a quarter of a million people died of COVID-19, many of them older people, a group that skews Republican. But he has limited ability to do anything to rescue himself, and all of the things he could do to save lives have political downsides.

For example, since he reveres businessmen—especially really, really rich ones—he could listen to the second-richest one in the country, who just happens to have a lot of expertise in the area of public health. You may have heard of him. His name is Bill Gates and he is worth $80 billion. And he has a foundation that is spending much of that fortune trying to improve public health in Africa by conquering diseases that are rampant there. Yesterday, Gates wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post urging Trump to shut the country down for at least 10 weeks, maybe more, to contain the coronavirus. That means all restaurants, beaches, and everywhere else people gather. Maybe even most domestic flights. The Dow Jones index (which, by the way, dropped almost 1,000 points yesterday) would not scoot up if the economy were shut down completely, but doing that might contain the virus. Trump may soon discover where the buck stops.

Part of the new reality alluded to in the headline above is that Trump is discovering that Democrats aren't the only people who get COVID-19. One of his closest friends, 78-year-old real estate mogul Stan Chera, has COVID-19 and is in a coma in New York Presbyterian hospital.

Trump also has been getting data that show the virus spreading in red states, which are about to be very hard-hit, due substantially to their failure to take action two weeks ago, when places like Washington and California were battening down the hatches (it was only yesterday that Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-FL, finally issued a stay-at-home order). One former White House official told Gabriel Sherman that Trump's pollsters "don't expect to win states that are getting blown to pieces with coronavirus." In other words, Trump is now starting to see that deaths, especially in red states, not the stock market, may be the end of his presidency. That is the new reality for him. (V)

Pentagon Has 2,000 Ventilators, but Doesn't Know Where to Ship Them

While it is a small point, it could influence some (military) voters in the end. The election will probably be a referendum on how well Donald Trump has managed the COVID-19 crisis. The nation has an acute shortage of ventilators and the Pentagon has 2,000 ventilators that it can spare. They are sitting around in some military warehouse because the commander-in-chief hasn't gotten around to telling the generals where to ship them. While 2,000 won't solve the problem, letting 2,000 Americans die because the president wasn't competent enough to at least marshall the resources he could does not project leadership. All he has to do is call the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and tell him where to send the ventilators. If the Democrats' pitch is going to be "Trump is unfit for office," this little item could be worth a campaign ad entitled "He could have saved 2,000 American lives and didn't." (V)

Pelosi Wants Vote-by-Mail Provision in Next Coronavirus Bill

Yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that she wants the next coronavirus bill, which is very likely to happen in the next few months, to include funding to encourage states to allow any voter who wants to, to vote by mail. She is shooting for $2 billion to $4 billion in election funding. The previous bill had a mere $400 million in it, which is far too little.

The provision will be extremely controversial and may have trouble getting past the Senate unless Pelosi digs in her 4-inch heels and says without that provision, there will be no bill. Pelosi would undoubtedly like to put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the position of either (1) accepting mail-in voting or (2) not having a bill to put the economy back on track and then getting the blame for it. On Monday, Donald Trump admitted to Fox News that if everyone voted, Republicans could never win a presidential election again, so it is certain that McConnell will oppose such a provision, at least initially. But if public opinion supports the provision, McConnell may ultimately feel that letting the economy flounder would be even worse.

Pelosi can also make the argument that the previous bill was written by Senate Republicans with hardly any input from Democrats. The House was told: "Pass it or else." So it would be only fair for the House to write the next bill and tell the Senate: "Your turn to rubber stamp our bill." Whether that works, of course, depends on how much pressure is brought to bear on McConnell. (V)

The Coronavirus Is Affecting Different Socioeconomic Groups Differently

A new poll by Axios/Ipsos shows how social distancing is affecting different strata of society:

Effects of virus by social class

The five classes in the poll are:

  • Lower (20%): High school education, $15,000 median household income
  • Lower middle (21%): High school education, $40,000 median household income
  • Middle (32%): Some college, $75,000 median household income
  • Upper middle (20%): Bachelor's degree, $125,000 median household income
  • Upper (8%): Master's degree, $200,000 median household income

It's the tale of two Americas. Many people in the upper brackets can work from home and presumably be safe and still draw their normal salaries. The people in the lower brackets don't have that option and either must go to their workplace (with the risk of getting sick) or must not go and not be paid. Also, more of them have been laid off. After all, if a restaurant is closed, the staff gets laid off. Law firms don't close; the lawyers just work from home.

The pollsters also asked if their emotional well-being has gotten worse during the crisis. Very surprisingly, anxiety increased with socioeconomic status. In the bottom group, 34% felt that their emotional well being has gotten worse, whereas in the top group it was 47%. The pollsters probably expected the opposite, so they didn't bother to ask why. Pity. No doubt the answer would be interesting. (V)

"Trump Bump" Fizzles

Donald Trump got a "rally 'round the flag" bump in his approval ratings recently, but these bumps rarely are permanent, and in Trump's case, maybe not even very long-lived. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll released yesterday shows that 47% of voters feel Trump isn't doing enough to respond to the outbreak, while 40% think he is doing a good job. That means he is under water by 7 points. A week ago he was above water (in a poll from a different pollster). If the social distancing, closed schools and businesses, and other measures go on for months, people are going to become even less happy.

The more generic poll, on whether people approve or disapprove of the way he is handling his job, is also under water. As usual, 45% approve of the job he is doing and 52% disapprove. It has been like this, virtually unchanged, plus or minus a couple of points, since he was inaugurated.

The pollster also asked how worried people are about COVID-19. A full 60% are very concerned. This suggests that the main issue on voters' minds for the next few months will be the virus. Trump's fate will be very closely tied to whether people think he is doing a good job responding to it. (V)

Schiff Is Drafting Legislation to Study Why Nation Was Unprepared for Coronavirus

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is not a one-trick pony. After starring in the "Impeachment of Donald Trump" show, he is back in the news again. He wants to create a commission to study why the country was unprepared for COVID-19. His model is the commissions that looked into Pearl Harbor and 9/11, so we can learn from the mistakes that were made.

Of course, Schiff already knows the answer: Donald Trump pooh-poohed the whole thing because he felt talking about it and taking action might hurt his reelection prospects. Mix in a bit of the Republican philosophy of "Government is not the solution; government is the problem" and it doesn't take a blue-ribbon commission to figure out what happened.

But Schiff is not interested in getting the answer he already knows. He is interested in pointing out to the voters that Donald Trump is the problem. If the Senate has to agree to the commission, it won't happen, but if the House creates it on its own, it could. It could be staffed with Democrats, plus some well-known never-Trump Republicans, plus Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) to make it look bipartisan. But make no mistake. It is not about finding out the "elusive truth." It is more about the old game of pinning the tail on the elephant. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr01 Trump Gets Real about COVID-19
Apr01 A Grim Mortality Milestone
Apr01 A Grim Economic Milestone
Apr01 Obama Is Not Happy
Apr01 Maybe Biden Shouldn't Worry about Appeasing Sanders
Apr01 Mike Francesa Slams Trump
Apr01 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part IV: Missouri Statehood (1819-20)
Mar31 Social Distancing Gets Political
Mar31 COVID Relief Bill v4.0 Dance Has Begun
Mar31 Trump Really Hates pro-Biden Commercial
Mar31 About that "Trump Bump"...
Mar31 Voting and Pandemics Don't Mix Well
Mar31 Cuomo Moves New York Primary
Mar31 Meadows Makes it Official
Mar30 Fauci Predicts 100,000 to 200,000 COVID-19 Deaths in America
Mar30 Is Trump Blackmailing Blue-State Governors?
Mar30 Trump Wipes Out the Anti-Corruption Measures in the Corornavirus Relief Bill
Mar30 Poll: Biden and Trump Are in a Statistical Tie
Mar30 Trump Brags about His Ratings
Mar30 Coronavirus May Help the Democrats Indirectly
Mar30 Where's the Libertarian Party?
Mar30 Governors Are Blocking Off Their States
Mar30 Highlights and Lowlights of the $2 Trillion Relief Law
Mar30 Liberty University Has Become a Flashpoint
Mar29 Sunday Mailbag
Mar28 COVID Relief Bill v3.0 Is a Go
Mar28 Saturday Q&A
Mar27 No Relief Bill Yet
Mar27 About Trump's Approval Rating...
Mar27 White House Continues to Resist Invocation of the DPA
Mar27 The 2020 Presidential Election Is a Whole New Ballgame
Mar27 Trump Declares That GOP Convention Will Proceed as Scheduled
Mar27 Trump Administration Indicts Maduro
Mar27 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part III: The Chesapeake Affair (1807)
Mar26 Relief Bill Passes the Senate
Mar26 The $2.2 Trillion Relief Bill Is a Christmas Tree--As Usual
Mar26 Far Right Is Now Targeting Anthony Fauci
Mar26 Biden Says That Trump's Timeline Could Be Catastrophic
Mar26 Twenty States Have Stay-at-Home Orders
Mar26 California Has Had 1 Million Unemployment Claims in Two Weeks
Mar26 COVID-19 Could Devolve into Class Warfare
Mar26 Biden: "I Think We've Had Enough Debates"
Mar26 German Cathedral Will Showcase St. Corona
Mar25 We Have a Deal
Mar25 The 2020 Congressional Elections Are a Whole New Ballgame
Mar25 Trump Wants This Thing Done By Easter
Mar25 New Jersey Blazes an E-Trail
Mar25 Pennsylvania Will Postpone Its Primary
Mar25 Sanders Will Keep Going
Mar25 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part II: The Alien and Sedition Acts (1798)