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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  A Power Struggle He Cannot Win, Part I: Trump vs. the Governors
      •  A Power Struggle He Cannot Win, Part II: Trump vs. Fauci
      •  Biden Wins Wisconsin
      •  Sanders Endorses Biden
      •  USS Theodore Roosevelt Sailor Dies of COVID-19
      •  Trump Wants to Delay Census
      •  Biden, Democrats Get to Play Some Catch-Up Due to COVID-19

A Power Struggle He Cannot Win, Part I: Trump vs. the Governors

Like him or not, Donald Trump is a man of action. He hates, hates, hates sitting on his hands, even when sitting on his hands would be the right thing to do. And at the moment, his fondest desire is to "re-open" the U.S. economy and get people working and spending again, so that the stock market will zoom up immediately, things will be "good" in November, and he can be reelected.

Consistent with his deep-seated need to do something, and his desire to make the economy "good" again, the President announced on Monday that he's establishing the "Opening Our Country Council," starting today, to consult with business owners about how to get things moving again. Characteristic for a Trump initiative, little thought appears to have been put into the plan before it was announced, as the administration was unable to answer many questions. Among them:

  • Who will oversee this council?
  • What is its exact purpose?
  • What will it be doing that is not already covered by the National Economic Council?
  • What will it be doing that is not already covered by czar one Mike Pence and czar two Jared Kushner?
  • How many people will be involved?
  • Who are these people and how will they be selected?
  • How will laws prohibiting private businesses from participating in government decisions be handled?

It is a rare problem that is actually solved by appointing a blue-ribbon panel to look into it. This does not appear to be an exception to that general rule.

There was one question that Trump was prepared for, however: If and when this panel declares that all is well, then what? The President's answer is that he will order the economy to re-open, and that will be that, because he has "total" authority when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions across the nation. His specific words, as he channeled his inner strongman: "When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total. The governors know that."

There is a term for someone whose authority is total, and that is "dictator." Undoubtedly, Trump thinks he should have dictatorial powers, and it may make him feel strong to say it out loud. But the assertion is utter nonsense, and the governors (outside of the half dozen or so who still have not issued stay-at-home orders) most certainly do not "know" that they owe fealty to the President, and many of them quickly pushed back at Trump's suggestion.

In fact, the governors aren't just pushing back at Trump in words, they're also pushing back in deeds. In the absence of reliable leadership from Washington, a consortium of East Coast states— New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts—announced that they will form a regional working group to coordinate their COVID-19 efforts, and to lay the groundwork for their states to reopen, whenever that might happen. Shortly thereafter, California, Oregon, and Washington established a West Coast version. Translation, in case Donald Trump didn't get the message: We don't care about your opinion when it comes to next steps.

A more skilled politician, or at least a more patient one, would be able to work with this. That is to say, they would respect the authority and the autonomy of state governors in a federal system, while at the same time building bridges between the state governments and the White House. Even FDR or Abraham Lincoln would not be able to get a New York or a California to put their fates entirely in the president's hands, but they certainly would be able to exert some influence on the states and their timelines.

Trump, on the other hand, is now—and always has been—unable to grasp that if you step on someone's toes today, you won't be able to call on them tomorrow to help you out. Not only is he failing to build bridges with folks like Govs. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Gavin Newsom (D-CA), Trump is actively burning bridges. Puffing his chest out and making high-profile declarations about how the governors are your serfs simply does not help. More significantly, the administration's habit of seizing medical supplies and redirecting them to...wherever, has been a fiasco at best, and deeply corrupt at worst, and the governors are furious.

In short, the President is setting himself up for yet another situation where he's going to say one thing, politicians who are beyond his ability to fire are going to say another, and then it will be a question of who blinks. And whether it is government shutdowns, or North Korean denuclearization, or Iran lobbing bombs at U.S. military bases, or post-Las Vegas gun safety measures, or hosting the G7 at Mar-a-Lago, everyone knows which person has a black belt in blinking. (Z)

A Power Struggle He Cannot Win, Part II: Trump vs. Fauci

In his power struggle with the nation's governors, Donald Trump cannot win the battle or the war. In his power struggle with Dr. Anthony Fauci, things are a little different. Trump could win the battle, if he so chooses. But, if so, he'd definitely be losing the war.

Trump's general beef with Fauci is that the good doctor has not toed the party line and played along with the President's fantasies about getting the economy back to full strength within weeks. Trump would much prefer someone like Dr. Marc Siegel who is—surprise, surprise!—a Fox News contributor, and who believes—surprise, surprise!—that it is not wise to over-protect people's health at the expense of the economy. One wonders exactly what med school he went to that produced this list of priorities, and whether or not the Hippocratic Oath was ever mentioned in class. The identity of Siegel's alma mater is not so easy to figure out, and is not included on his personal website, which looks like it was created back when Hippocrates was still alive and writing drafts of his oath.

Anyhow, the general complaint Trump has with Fauci is that he doesn't play ball the way Siegel would. The more specific complaint, at the moment, is that Fauci went on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, and answered questions in a manner that suggested that the President made COVID-19 worse with his inaction in the early days of the pandemic. This is a true statement, although it's not actually what Fauci was intending to communicate. What he was really trying to do was explain that things certainly could have been handled better, but that hindsight is 20/20, and that it's much harder to adopt aggressive containment measures when you don't know what the future holds.

Put another way, Fauci was trying to give an honest answer, but also to give Trump (and others in the administration) some amount of the benefit of the doubt. However, many Trump followers saw red when they heard what Fauci had to say, and the hashtag #FireFauci trended on Twitter on Sunday. That's regrettable, but lots of things trend on Twitter, so not a big deal in and of itself. The President, however, rarely misses a chance to add fuel to his base's fire, and so he retweeted several of the messages, which certainly suggested the doctor was about to get axed.

We have news for Trump: If he thinks Fauci should be fired, the person who has the authority to do that is...Donald Trump. However, the President has already backed down on the threat (black belt in blinking, remember), and said that the only reason he retweeted that was to point out that "Not everybody's happy with Anthony." Uh, huh. Fauci, for his part, spent some time on Monday clarifying his comments, and saying that he did not intend to point a finger at the President. We described the dynamic between the two men as a "power struggle," but the struggle is really only going in one direction. It is clear that Fauci wants to make sure he remains a national voice of reason, and that he will be very deferential to Trump on personal matters so that he can continue to speak truth on medical matters.

Undoubtedly, what keeps Trump from firing Fauci is optics; it would look very bad to cashier the doctor in the midst of a crisis. What the President does not appear to realize (given his abusive behavior toward the doctor, and the failure to call off the attack dogs in the base) is that "bad optics" is small potatoes compared to the real political benefit of keeping the doctor around. As everyone knows, and as we note above, Trump desperately wants to declare "all clear" and get the country back to normal. There is a percentage of the American public—35-40%—that will do whatever Trump tells them to do when it comes to COVID-19. Most of the rest of the country, however, doesn't trust the President at all on this matter. The person that they do trust is Fauci. If Trump says "all is well," many people will roll their eyes. If Fauci says "I agree," however, then that would do a lot to put people's minds at ease. And so, if the Donald wants to maximize his administration's ability to hasten the re-opening of the economy, he should be doing everything possible to build the doctor up, and to make him feel like a valued member of Team Trump. Instead, as with the governors, the President has chosen a different approach. (Z)

Biden Wins Wisconsin

Wisconsin has announced the results of its primary, and despite the chaotic circumstances, Joe Biden still beat Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in a rout. Here are the totals:

Candidate Votes Pct. Del.
Joe Biden 581,303 62.9% 50
Bernie Sanders 293,581 31.8% 20

If Sanders had not already dropped out, the pressure on him would have been intense to do so after this result. First, because it completes a sweep of the badly needed upper Midwest states for Biden. Second, because Sanders did so much worse than in 2016, when he claimed 56.6% of the vote. The evidence mounts that a sizable chunk of Sanders' success in 2016 was powered by "I hate Hillary Clinton" votes.

Overall, turnout was down relative to 2016, when 1,003,931 votes were cast for the two leading Democrats. This year's total was 874,884, despite a large increase in mail-in votes. Undoubtedly, most of that downturn is due to COVID-19, though it is also the case that Clinton vs. Sanders in 2016 was more competitive at the point that Wisconsin voted than Biden vs. Sanders was in 2020.

As an aside, different reliable sources don't entirely agree on the delegate count. Part of that is due to the peculiarities of how some states choose their delegates. In caucus states, for example, on "Election Day," delegates are chosen to the county caucuses where delegates are chosen to the district caucuses where delegates are chosen to the state convention where delegates are chosen to the national convention. Until that is done, there is a fair amount of guesswork about the final result. We are using NBC News' results. Your mileage may vary.

Meanwhile, in the judicial contest that Wisconsin Republicans moved heaven and earth to win...they lost, and it wasn't close. Here are those numbers:

Candidate Votes Pct.
Jill Karofsky (D) 855,981 55.3%
Daniel Kelly (R) 692,523 44.7%

Officially, these judicial elections are non-partisan, but everyone knew which side of the aisle each of these folks is on.

Are there any broader conclusions to be drawn here? Well, on one hand, it was a very unusual election, and one with a presidential race on one side but not on the other. So, caution is called for. On the other hand, the Democratic presidential race wasn't that competitive, and the incumbent Kelly got absolutely crushed, by over 150,000 votes. This is the same Kelly that Donald Trump endorsed loudly, supporting that with four different tweets. And this is the same Wisconsin that Trump won by 22,748 votes in 2016. Oh, and there's a very good chance that some voters will be cranky with the Republicans in November for forcing them to polls in the middle of an epidemic.

Add it all up, then, and the Republicans certainly have some reason to be nervous about what will happen in the Badger State in November. And if Joe Biden manages to return Wisconsin to the Democratic column, then flipping Florida by itself, or flipping any two of North Carolina/Georgia/Michigan/Pennsylvania would put Uncle Joe in the White House. (Z)

Sanders Endorses Biden

Bernie Sanders has recovered rapidly from the end of his presidential campaign, it would seem, because on Tuesday he formally endorsed Joe Biden. "Today, I am asking all Americans—I'm asking every Democrat; I'm asking every independent; I'm asking a lot of Republicans—to come together in this campaign to support your candidacy, which I endorse, to make certain that we defeat somebody who I believe is the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country." The presumptive nominee said he was grateful for the endorsement, telling Sanders (remotely, of course): "Your endorsement means a great deal, a great deal to me."

Some sizable portion of Sanders' supporters would have held their noses and voted for Biden no matter what the Vermont Senator did. The question now is: How much influence will Sanders have over the remainder? We had some letters this weekend from folks who see little difference between Biden and Satan, and say they will vote third party or will vote for Trump, in order to register their anger and/or to help "bring down" the system. Maybe folks like that are lost causes for the Democrats.

On the other hand, the healing process is starting earlier than it did in 2016, and with a candidate that is generally more popular than Hillary Clinton, and who also has a warmer relationship with Sanders. For what it is worth, roughly 20% of Sanders voters said, on the day he left the race, that they would not vote for Clinton under any circumstances. When it came time to actually vote, however, that percentage dropped about 7 points, to 13%. Right now, about 15% of Sanders voters say they will not vote for Biden under any circumstances. And remember, in politics a week is a long time. Between now and November, stuff can happen that can change minds. (Z)

USS Theodore Roosevelt Sailor Dies of COVID-19

On Tuesday, the U.S. Navy announced that one of the sailors on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt who had tested positive for COVID-19 has died of the disease. No other details about the deceased service member's identity were given, pending notification of his or her family.

In terms of human cost, that sailor is no different from the 28,056 (known) deaths in the U.S. due to the disease. In terms of politics, however, this individual's passing is very different, indeed. When then-captain of the Roosevelt Brett Crozier wrote a memo pleading for his sailors to be offloaded, the Trump administration could have handled it in many ways. The path they chose, however, was to pitch an absolute hissy-fit, and to take an internal U.S. Navy matter that otherwise would have passed largely without notice and turn it into a major national news story. Now, the costs of ignoring Crozier (and relieving him from command) have a human face, and the whole country is going to see that face sometime in the next 48 hours, when the sailor's identity is revealed.

Put another way, it would be hard to devise a situation with more disastrous optics if you were an Academy Award-winning screenwriter with six months to ponder. Lots of Americans feel very strongly about the nation's servicemen and servicewomen, and now one of those service members (and possibly more than one, if any of the four sailors still in the hospital don't recover) has effectively been sacrificed in service of the Trump administration's desire to control the narrative and to put the best PR spin on things possible. Time will tell, but this could prove to be a political disaster with serious staying power, not unlike George W. Bush and "Mission Accomplished," or Jimmy Carter and "malaise," or Gerald Ford and "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe." (Z)

Trump Wants to Delay Census

A sizable chunk of the annual census can be handled online. However, the balance requires a fair bit of face-to-face interaction, particularly when it comes to tracking down people who otherwise refuse to report. As you may have heard, right now is not a great time for face-to-face interactions. So, Donald Trump said on Monday that he will ask Congress for an extension of 120 days, and maybe more.

This certainly seems to be sensible, not to mention inevitable. As with the "Opening Our Country Council," (see above) Trump appears to have pulled this out of his pocket roughly 2 minutes before making it public, such that none of the key congressional leaders had heard anything about it before getting a bunch of phone calls from reporters asking for comment. Beyond that, however, it's hard to find much to criticize here. Trump usually begins from the vantage point of "How does this benefit me?" and he's already tried to monkey around with this census, so it's possible there's something sneaky going on here. But if there is, we don't see what it might be. (Z)

Biden, Democrats Get to Play Some Catch-Up Due to COVID-19

This year's presidential campaign is going to be mostly virtual. In fact, it may be entirely virtual, as the pandemic may not be over in time for two conventions, plus a bunch of speeches and rallies and meet-and-greets. And if it does end up being 80/90/100% an e-campaign, then Donald Trump and the Republicans have at least a couple of very significant advantages, and the Democrats are going to have to hustle if they want to counter them.

First, there is the matter of fundraising. Donald Trump's team has mastered the art of shaking down the base for money via e-mail and the Internet. There is no day that passes without at least a couple of pleas for cash. There is also no perceived outrage—kneeling football players, cups at Starbucks that aren't Christmas-y enough, Alec Baldwin being a big meanie on Saturday Night Live, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) deciding to have toast for breakfast—that doesn't generate at least one or two messages. Anyhow, with the election drawing near, the Republican take has been brisk. The campaign and the RNC announced their combined Q1 total on Monday, and it is a lot: $212 million.

As a Party, the Democrats are pretty good at raising money online; their ActBlue is still light years ahead of the Republican equivalent (WinRed). However, ActBlue is for all candidates, whereas Biden 2020 needs to generate a much more focused income stream. The candidate had planned to hold a bunch of in-person events, but now that's not possible, so the campaign and the DNC are trying hard to build a robust online fundraising infrastructure. There has been some scuttlebutt that former New York Mayor and presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg is going to lend his considerable expertise, but there's nothing firm on that front yet. Earlier this year, he said that he would personally fund a Democratic super PAC with a massive amount of money. Also no word on that lately.

The other significant area where the Democrats in general, and Joe Biden in particular, lag Trump and the Republicans is...YouTube. Used skillfully, the video-sharing site can be very helpful in promoting a political campaign or agenda. That is even more true at a time when in-person campaigning is verboten. Trump has gotten a fair bit of mileage out of his various YouTube channels, and so too have many of his Republican supporters, like Mark Dice, Paul Joseph Watson, and Prager "University."

There is no meaningful Democratic equivalent to Trump's channels, or to any of these other right-wing content creators. The challenge is that getting your material out there requires getting deeply embedded in YouTube's research results, and also getting lots of subscribers, and likes, and comments, all of which influence search results on that particular site. These things take time, something that is in relatively short supply for an election in November. So, the blue team needs to get cracking. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr13 Biden Beats Sanders in Alaska Primary
Apr13 Trump's Newest Election Strategy: Biden Is Weak on China
Apr13 What Did Trump Know and When Did He Know It?
Apr13 Trump Lashes Out at Fauci
Apr13 Trump's Friend and Donor, Stanley Chera, Has Died of COVID-19
Apr13 Republicans Reject Democrats' Ideas for the Next Relief Bill
Apr13 Virginia Makes Voting Easier
Apr13 Florida Republicans Are Mixed on Mail-in Voting
Apr13 Whose Fault Was the Mess in Wisconsin?
Apr13 People Are Now Willing to Talk to Pollsters
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Apr12 Sunday Mailbag
Apr11 Saturday Q&A
Apr10 Pence Tries to Strong-arm CNN into Carrying Full Daily Briefings
Apr10 A Spoiled System
Apr10 Unemployment Claims Once Again Exceed 6 Million
Apr10 COVID-19 Relief Bill v4.0 Hits Some Snags
Apr10 COVID-19 Doesn't Discriminate, Except When It Does
Apr10 Trump Tries a New Line of Attack Against Biden
Apr10 Time to Cancel the Democratic Convention?
Apr10 The 2024 Presidential Election Is Starting to Take Shape
Apr09 Sanders Calls It Quits
Apr09 Biden May Have an Easier Job of Unifying the Party than Did Clinton in 2016
Apr09 Biden Is Leading Trump by 8 Points Nationally
Apr09 The Election Wars Have Begun
Apr09 Federal Judge Expands Voting Rights of Ex-Felons in Florida
Apr09 Nikki Haley: If People Die, Blame Your Governor
Apr09 Democrats Are Going after Ernst in Earnest
Apr09 Locking the Barn Door after the Prize Racehorse Has Escaped
Apr09 McGrath Has Outraised McConnell
Apr09 New Jersey Moves Its Primary to July
Apr09 Some Unexpected Effects from the Pandemic
Apr08 Wisconsin Primary Is a Fiasco
Apr08 Congress Prepares to Get Out the Checkbook Again
Apr08 Navarro Plot Thickens
Apr08 COVID-19 Death Totals Are Undoubtedly Low
Apr08 White House Does Some Spring Housecleaning
Apr08 Let the Investigations Begin
Apr08 Things Are Getting Interesting in Georgia
Apr07 Wisconsin Soap Opera Takes Many Twists and Turns
Apr07 Trump, Biden Chat on Phone
Apr07 White House's Dirty Laundry Gets Aired in Public
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Apr07 House COVID-19 Inquiry Is Definitely Happening
Apr07 Trump Sinks in Florida
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Apr06 Republicans Will Try to Block Vote-by-Mail Nationwide...
Apr06 ...And Are Already Trying in Wisconsin
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Apr06 States Raid Election Security Funds to Pay Costs Related to COVID-19