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Political Wire logo New Evidence Surfaces In Allegation Against Biden
Nervous GOP Sees Trump Sinking and Losing Senate Too
Trump Team Worries About Too Much Trump
Congress Shovels Trillions at Virus, With No Endgame
Behind Trump’s Decision to Cut Back His Daily Briefings
Trump Will Cut Back Daily Briefings

Administration's COVID-19 Management Not too Bright

The new spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, Michael Caputo, is just the type of person that Donald Trump likes to have on his COVID-19 team. He has no particular expertise in health or human services; his degree is in journalism, and his career has been spent as a spin doctor for his father's company and as a Republican political operative. The fact that, as first reported Thursday, he's got a history of saying racist things about the Chinese on Twitter, and of accusing the media of conspiring against the President, is a feature and not a bug.

Dr. Rick Bright, who was until Tuesday the administration's point person on vaccination (his official titles were Director of the Department of Health and Human Services' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response), is, by contrast, not Trump's type of person at all. The President does not have much regard for folks who devoted their lives to public service, or those who have actual expertise, and Bright has spent years building up a résumé that includes plenty of both. Most significant, however, is that the good doctor was willing to challenge the throne. In particular, he engaged in much pushback behind the scenes, arguing that hydroxychloroquine is not a "game changer" when it comes to COVID-19, and that it is in fact "[a] potentially dangerous drug promoted by those with political connections."

Trump does not like those who tell him the opposite of what he wants to hear. And so, despite the fact that the President has accepted that Bright was correct (and has thus moved on from hydroxychloroquine to...sunlight and disinfectant injections as his panaceas-du-jour), Bright was demoted on Wednesday. It's not terribly easy to outright fire civil servants; this is the type of demotion intended to cause Bright to "voluntarily" resign.

Bright says that his departure was retaliation for his unwillingness to toe the party line. Trump says that's nonsense, and that he's never even heard of Bright. So, it's technically a "he said, he said" situation. However, this kind of retaliation is entirely Trump's style, and it's awfully hard to think of another reason for major personnel shifts at HHS right in the midst of a pandemic. Further, even if this is the rare case where the President is telling the truth, his not knowing the identity of the most significant vaccination expert in his administration is not much of an improvement over Bright's version of events.

In any event, this is yet another case study in the President's near-total inability to think long-term. He and his team might not have liked what Bright was saying behind closed doors, but at least it was behind closed doors. Now, having lost his job, the scientist has no particular reason to hold back. And he's quite happy to share his version of events with anyone who wants to hear them. Here is a portion of the statement he issued:

Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis.

I will request that the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services investigate the manner in which this Administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections as well as efforts that lack scientific merit. Rushing blindly towards unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths. Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics.

In case that last portion was not crystal clear, Bright confirmed on Thursday that he is going to file a formal whistleblower complaint. And so, the public is going to get a good, long look behind the curtain of HHS, and the administration's less-than-stellar response to the COVID-19 crisis.

All of this comes, incidentally, on a day full of other not-so-great news for the administration. First, it is now clear that COVID-19 reached American shores in December, was spreading unchecked by January, and claimed its first American victim in early February (if not earlier). All of this shifts the previous timeline backward by about three weeks, and contributes significantly to the general sense that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. After all, during the administration's month of inaction in February, lots of people were already getting sick and dying.

In addition, the (known) U.S. death total from COVID-19 passed 50,000 on Thursday. From a political and PR standpoint, this is something of a double whammy. First, people have a cognitive bias toward round numbers; 50,000 is considerably more impactful than 48,000 or 49,000. This is called...wait for it...the round number bias (they worked very hard on that name). In addition, it is now inevitable that within the next week, the total number of American deaths from COVID-19 will exceed the total number of American deaths in the Vietnam War (58,209). That is something that will boil down to a very potent sound bite, something along the lines of "While the Trump administration flailed about, more Americans died of COVID-19 in one month than in 20 years in the Vietnam War." Michael Caputo is going to have his work cut out for him, as he points the finger at the Chinese, the media, and any other targets that leap to mind. (Z)

Kemp Gets a View of Life from Under the Bus

As we've noted several times now, Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) has become the poster boy for the Southern governors (four of them) who are hustling to reopen their states. His thinking here is evidently guided by three things: (1) the protests of what is, according to multiple polls, a noisy-but-not-that-large minority, (2) the desires of national Republicans, including Donald Trump, and (3) the recognition that an economy in recession is not good news, politically. As a consequence of his decision-making, Kemp has been flayed by pundits across the spectrum, inspiring a large number of acidic op-eds like this one, headlined "Georgia leads the race to become America's No. 1 Death Destination." He's also gotten a lot of pushback from Democratic politicians, including the mayors of most of the Peach State's largest cities.

Now, Republicans are also piling on, including alleged Kemp ally Trump. The President called the Governor to express support for the grand reopening, and then just hours later went on TV (guess which channel) and declared:

I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities which are in violation of the phase one guidelines for the incredible people of Georgia. They're incredible people. I love those people. They are—they're great. They've been strong, resolute.

But, at the same time, he must do what he thinks is right. I want him to do what he thinks is right, but I disagree with him on what he's doing. But I want to let the governors do—now, if I see something totally egregious, totally out of line, I'll do. But I think spas and beauty salons and tattoo parlors and barbershops in phase one—we're going to have phase two very soon—is just too soon. I think it's too soon.

Concurrently, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), who is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), and so is carefully monitoring the political winds, went on TV (guess which channel) and lit into Kemp and said he was "not communicating clearly."

This whole sequence of events has two practical implications. The first is that Trump, apparently having figured out that going too far too fast could be disastrous for him on numerous levels, is now hinting that he may extend the timeframe for social distancing to June 1, or even beyond. The second is that the 40 or so governors whose states are still closed down, even the ones who lead ruby-red Trump-loving states, are going to be very reluctant to reopen until there is nationwide movement in that direction. They certainly don't want to stick their necks out and have them stomped on by Trump, as happened to Kemp. (Z)

House Passes COVID-19 Relief Bill v4.0

As expected, the House of Representatives passed the latest COVID-19 relief bill, allocating an additional $484 billion for small business loans and for combating the disease. That brings the total amount the government has dumped into the economy to $2.5 trillion. A presidential signature is supposed to be imminent, though with Donald Trump you never know.

There were a couple of notable things about the House's proceedings on Thursday. First, most of the members, Republican and Democrat, were wearing face coverings. However, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a tea partier and Trump ally, made a point of parading around without one. If he's not the biggest jerk in Congress, then he's certainly on the medal podium with Rep. Steve "white supremacist" King (R-IA) and maybe Rep. Matt "gas mask" Gaetz (R-FL).

Meanwhile, the only Democrat to vote against the measure was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Like everyone else, she is aware that nobody thinks $2.5 trillion is enough. However, she fears that COVID-19 relief bill v5.0 will not come to pass, given the growing resistance of Republicans, particularly in the Senate, and so she thought that a more expansive version of 4.0 was called for. She may be proven right; haggling over the next round of funding (including whether or not it will happen) is going to be the big story on the Hill for the next few weeks. (Z)

Trump Organization Would Like Bailout from Trump Administration

Speaking of bailouts, the list of businesses looking for a favor from the government has an interesting new entry. It's the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C., which has seen a decline in business due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump Organization does not want a direct payment from the $2.5 trillion the government has set aside; it just wants the government to give them a big break on their lease payments.

It is not clear whether or not the request will be granted. What is clear is that it is not going to fly under the radar the way that the Trumps had hoped. This was surely a foolish hope; anyone and everyone expected the family to have its hands out in one way or another, and so the media was watching closely for things like this. The only real question was whether The New York Times or The Washington Post would be the first to break the story (it was the Times).

Of course, a few million dollars in rent forgiveness is small potatoes compared to the billions that the Trump administration is distributing, a process that Team Trump also hoped would take place under the radar. That was an even more foolish hope. It's true that the President did a pretty good job of foiling the oversight panel created by COVID-19 relief bill v3.0. However, there are quite a few entities beyond the President's control that are taking over much of that responsibility. We've already noted that the General Accountability Office is going to conduct a number of audits. On Thursday, House Democrats created an oversight panel to take a close look at things. Also on Thursday, the Federal Reserve, facing enormous pressure and fearful of becoming more politicized than it already is, agreed to release monthly reports on whom it's giving money to, and how much they're getting. And, of course, the fourth estate is looking under rocks for evidence of incompetence and corruption, as we've also noted before. So, there are going to be a lot of lights shined on this whole process. (Z)

Team Trump Flails around in Search for Biden's Achilles Heel

It's possible that COVID-19 proves to be less disruptive than expected, and that regular life and the economy are back on track by late summer or early fall. Possible, but not very likely. That means that instead of running on a platform of "I'm a heckuva president who's done great things for the economy," Donald Trump is looking at running on a platform of "Joe Biden is far worse than I am." That kind of campaign can work; it's the story of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) entire political career, but it does require some useful ammunition for deployment against the presumptive Democratic nominee. By all indications, the search for that ammunition is not going well.

Let us begin with the Twitter account of one Donald Trump Jr. Young Trump craves his daddy's attention and approval, and he has decided the only way to acquire those things is to be even more outrageous and outspoken than the old man. This is not an easy thing to do, but Don Jr. gives it the old college try. That means that his Twitter feed is, even by the very low standards of that platform, an absolute sewer of finger-pointing, Democrat-bashing, and conspiracy thinking. It's also a pretty good overview of whatever the Biden attack of the day is.

For example, on Thursday, Trump Jr. was flogging a story from Fox News about an alleged Osama bin Laden plot to assassinate Barack Obama and put Joe Biden in the Oval Office, because of bin Laden's view that Biden was not up to the job:

The plot really did exist, even if bin Laden had absolutely no plausible way to put it into action. However, it is not clear when the political opinions of a fanatical mass murderer became something worthy of consideration. And if we are counting up the number of prominent non-Americans who hold Biden in low regard, versus the number who hold Trump in low regard, well, let's just say that Trump does not win that particular contest.

Another line of attack that Trump Jr. is pushing heavily right now is that the Bidens have been collecting $30 million per year from the Chinese government:

It should not even be necessary to fact-check this, as those sorts of sums don't pass even the most cursory of smell tests. However, for those who are wondering, there is only the smallest kernel of truth to the claim. There is indeed a company called BHR (Shanghai) Equity Investment Fund Management Company, and it did eventually control $1.5 billion in funds, much of it from Chinese investors. However, Hunter Biden did not found the company, and was not a part of it until 2017, well after his father was out of office. Further, management of $1.5 billion in funds is far different from lining one's pockets to the tune of $1.5 billion. And finally, even if the Bidens are entirely in hock to the Chinese government, the implied connection to COVID-19 just isn't there. As you may have noticed, neither Joe nor Hunter Biden holds a political office right now, which means that they have no role in the government's management (or mismanagement) of the pandemic.

In any event, the point here is not to tear down silly conspiracy theories and political attacks, per se. It's to illustrate, once again, that Team Trump is really scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to finding Joe Biden's Achilles heel. The bin Laden and China money stories are not only flimsy, they're both recycled. The bin Laden story, which was just (re-)reported by Fox News, is nearly eight years old. The China story is more than six months old, having first been reported by right-wing media (and then debunked by everyone else) back in October 2019.

It is at least possible that Trump 2020 and the RNC have some really killer skeleton from Joe Biden's closet that they plan to unleash later in the campaign. However, we doubt it. First, while it is true that a more skilled provocateur, one capable of thinking long-term and playing 3-D chess (e.g., Julian Assange) might keep something juicy under his hat, that is not the Trumps' style. They prefer to get out the sledgehammer as soon as it becomes available, and then to wield it over and over and over. In addition, the fishing expedition in Ukraine, which led to Ukraineyola and impeachment, speaks to a pretty high level of desperation.

Trump was going to run a nasty campaign under any circumstances, because that is what he does. However, recent events have made that strategy doubly important to him. And adding it up, it's looking more and more like he's going to have to do with relatively little ammunition, beyond silly nicknames like "Sleepy Joe." (Z)

About That Order to Shoot Down Iranian Gunboats...

A couple of days later, Donald Trump's declaration-of-war-via-Twitter is starting to come into much sharper focus. To start, it is now perfectly clear that it was just Twitter bluster. The New York Times reported that "[a] tweet does not constitute a military order, and a Defense Department official said the Navy had not received any formal policy directive from Mr. Trump ordering it to change its criteria for opening fire on Iranian gunboats."

Meanwhile, Business Insider appears to have its finger on the real motivation behind the tweet. Describing it as the "oldest Middle East oil trick in the book," the President's motivation was to destabilize the Middle Eastern oil market so as to give an assist to the struggling American petroleum industry. We can't believe we didn't figure it out ourselves when we speculated about his thinking yesterday. Of course, this is a short-term "fix," and it's not so great to have a president who is willing to gamble with armed conflict in order to save one sector of the economy. However, if you were concerned about the advent of World War III, it looks like you can stand down.

Trump's obsession with oil is another example of his tunnel vision. Are low oil prices bad for America? Well, if you ask Exxon, they sure are. But if you ask Delta Airlines, General Motors, or any operator of an oil-fired electric power plant, you might just get a different answer. In reality, the users of oil and gas are a much bigger group than the producers of same. Trump seems to have missed that. If he were smart, he would be bragging about how much he has brought down gasoline prices this year. The AAA is reporting that the national average gas price is $1.79/gallon now, with even lower numbers in key swing states like Wisconsin ($1.19), Michigan ($1.42), and North Carolina ($1.67). (Z)

Lots of Bad COVID-19-related Demographic News for Trump

If Donald Trump manages to get reelected in 2020, in view of both his chronic low approval ratings and the COVID-19 mess, it will be the greatest miracle in American political history, unseating the current holder of that title, which is...well, probably his first electoral victory (runner-up: Truman defeats Dewey). On Thursday, there were three different bits of demographic news, all of them giving him reason to be nervous.

Let's begin with unemployment. Another 4.4 million people filed in the last week, bringing the running total to about 26.5 million. Obviously, people who are unemployed are not generally enthusiastic about voting for more of the same. Further, as Politico's Megan Casella observes, the battleground states are among the hardest hit; the only swing state where unemployment is below the national average is Wisconsin. In the states of Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, all of them states that Trump won in 2016 and that he needs in 2020, unemployment is at or near 25% (e.g., Great Depression levels). The only 2016 blue states with such high unemployment are Hawaii (which is never going red), Nevada, and New Hampshire. That means that ultra-high joblessness is putting 52 Republican EVs from 2016 in jeopardy, as compared to 10 Democratic EVs.

Moving on, let's talk young people. The new Harvard Youth Poll makes clear that voters 18-to-29 are not happy with Trump and his handling of COVID-19, favoring Joe Biden by 23 points (51% to 28%). Among the voters 18-to-29 who are most likely to vote, Biden's advantage jumps to 30 points (60% to 30%). Put another way, among younger voters, Joe Biden enthusiasm + COVID-19 = Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) enthusiasm. Of course, the rub with young people is that they don't vote. However, between their high level of irritation/motivation and the likelihood of extensive vote-by-mail, it's certainly possible that turnout among those who are 18-to-29 will be up this year.

And finally, let's consider old people. Specifically, dead old people. We generally suspect that if COVID-19 causes people to stay away from the polls in November, that will include a disproportionate number of elderly people. Since they make up much of Trump's base, it would work to his detriment, assuming we are correct. However, it may not matter if we are correct. There is a new study, admittedly tentative and a little macabre, that suggests he could be badly damaged by the loss of voters who will not have the option of showing up to vote because they will already be deceased. To take one example, current projections suggest that 13,000 more Republicans than Democrats will perish in Pennsylvania. The President won that state by 44,292 votes in 2016, and so he's already working with the thinnest of margins there.

Clearly, the world of political analysis has moved into the number-crunching phase of the cycle, as indicated by three different significant demographic analyses coming out the same day we switched our map. There will be vastly more number crunching, particularly as the implications of COVID-19 become clearer. Even now, however, it's clear there are quite a few holes in Trump's armor. (Z)

It Could Be a While Before the 2020 Election Winner Is Known

We've mentioned this in passing a couple of times, but now TalkingPointsMemo has laid it out in great detail: If vote-by-mail is way up this November (very likely), it could cause the outcome of the presidential race to be in doubt for days, or even weeks, beyond November 3.

The main problems that TPM focuses on are logistical: There may be too few people and too little equipment to plow through a vast pile of ballots in just a few short hours. Unmentioned, but also relevant, is the temporal issue: states are not going to have all the ballots in hand on Election Day, and will have to wait for postal delivery of an unknown number of ballots-by-mail. This is particularly salient in swing states, a.k.a. the ones that will decide the election.

As with all of the various challenges that election officials will face this fall, taking action now (and spending some money) will be important if they wish to fend off disaster. Purchasing mail sorting machines is a good first step, as is the implementation of training programs for volunteers. Perhaps most important, however, will be communicating to the American public that they should temper their expectations, and should not expect insta-gratification on that Tuesday evening in November. The more time that goes by, and the more unusual or unexpected that passage of time seems, the more time there will be for tongues to start wagging. Some of that will be unavoidable, especially since it will be coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. However, the more prepared that people are, the less likely that such conspiratorial thinking will take hold (well, beyond the President's base, which is still convinced that something was fishy with the 2016 election, despite the fact that their candidate won). (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

The very first version of our map, which we published yesterday, had Pennsylvania as barely Republican. That's what the (somewhat stale) numbers were saying, but we didn't really buy it. Joe Biden is a local son, and if there's any 2016 red state he should be able to flip, given his political program and image, that's the one. Three new polls from the Keystone State suggest we were right to be skeptical.

We look forward to some polls being done in Minnesota, as we also don't believe that Biden is actually weaker there than he is in, say, Michigan. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Michigan 46% 38% Apr 15 Apr 20 Ipsos
Michigan 49% 41% Apr 18 Apr 21 Fox News
Michigan 51% 44% Apr 20 Apr 21 PPP
North Carolina 49% 46% Apr 20 Apr 21 PPP
New Jersey 54% 38% Apr 16 Apr 19 Monmouth U.
Pennsylvania 46% 40% Apr 15 Apr 20 Ipsos
Pennsylvania 50% 42% Apr 18 Apr 21 Fox News
Pennsylvania 51% 44% Apr 20 Apr 21 PPP
Wisconsin 43% 40% Apr 15 Apr 20 Ipsos
Wisconsin 50% 45% Apr 20 Apr 21 PPP

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr23 The General-Election Map Is Live Today
Apr23 The Pandemic Is Upending the November Map
Apr23 Poll: Few Americans Think the Social Distancing Has Gone Too Far
Apr23 Bomb, Bomb, Bomb...Bomb, Bomb Iran?
Apr23 Trump and Biden Will Battle over China
Apr23 A "W" Could Wipe Out Trump
Apr23 Milwaukee Will Send All Voters an Absentee Ballot Application
Apr23 Whitmer Has Not Spoken with Biden about Being His Running Mate
Apr23 McConnell Has Clear Priorities
Apr23 Postal Service Collapse Would Hit the Republican Base the Hardest
Apr23 Today's Presidential Polls
Apr22 Senate Has a Deal
Apr22 House Moves Toward Vote by Proxy
Apr22 Trump Immigration Ban Is Mostly a Paper Tiger
Apr22 Kemp Gets Much Blowback
Apr22 NFL Draft Starts Tomorrow
Apr22 Trump Lags Biden in National Polls
Apr22 Biden Campaign Arguing Over Leadership of Online Campaign
Apr21 Trump Says He Will Suspend Immigration
Apr21 Four States Get Ready to Reopen
Apr21 Incompetent or Corrupt?, Part I: Small Business Funding
Apr21 Incompetent or Corrupt?, Part II: Emergency Equipment Funding
Apr21 Oil Prices Fall Below Zero
Apr21 Trump Snubs Romney
Apr21 Democrats Are Raking It In
Apr21 Democrats Want Obama
Apr20 Biden Sweeps Wyoming Caucus
Apr20 Voters Dump Trump Bump
Apr20 Trump's New Election Strategy: Run on Dividing the Country
Apr20 Coronavirus Is Starting to Hit Red States
Apr20 Some Sanders' Supporters Are Undecided
Apr20 A Nationwide Mail-in Election Is Not Likely to Happen
Apr20 Michael Cohen Is Writing a Tell-All Book
Apr20 Can Political Parties Fall Victim to COVID-19?
Apr20 This Is What Good Old-fashioned Traditional Corruption Looks Like
Apr20 What Is Essential?
Apr20 Democrats Outraised Republicans in Key Senate Races
Apr19 Sunday Mailbag
Apr18 Saturday Q&A
Apr17 Trump Unveils Re-Opening Plan...
Apr17 ...and Governors Do Their Own Thing(s)
Apr17 Intelligence Community to Probe Chinese Origins of COVID-19
Apr17 Small Business Funding Runs Out
Apr17 Never Trump Republicans Rally
Apr17 What to Make of Tara Reade?
Apr17 Warren Is Angling for VP Slot
Apr16 Amash May Run
Apr16 Warren Endorses Biden
Apr16 Trump Faces Blowback on WHO Funding Cut
Apr16 Trump Threatens to Adjourn Congress