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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  It's Officially the White House vs. Anthony Fauci
      •  About Those Forced School Reopenings
      •  About that Economy Rebounding
      •  Desperation Sets in for Trump Campaign
      •  Biden Campaign Gets Serious about Latino Outreach
      •  Mary Trump Is Ungagged
      •  COVID-19 Diaries, The Return
      •  Today's Presidential Polls
      •  Today's Senate Polls

It's Officially the White House vs. Anthony Fauci

On Monday, NBC News, The Washington Post, and possibly other outlets received some of the most...unusual oppo research American politics has ever seen. It was courtesy of an unnamed White House official, and it included a list of statements made by Dr. Anthony Fauci that later turned out to be incorrect. "White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things," a spokesperson explained.

Taken out of context, the statements do reflect badly on Fauci. For example, he said that COVID-19 was "not a major threat," and later said "people should not be walking around with masks." However, when those statements were made in January and March, respectively, they were consistent with what was known at the time (and were repeated multiple times by White House officials, including Donald Trump). In addition, the latter statement was made when safety equipment (especially masks) was in danger of running out, and needed to be reserved for hospitals.

This is just the latest element of the White House's efforts to marginalize Fauci. He's been barred from appearing on TV. Further, he hasn't spoken to Donald Trump since June 2. After all, why would the President want to consult with the federal government's foremost expert in infectious diseases, one who has served 10 presidents with distinction over the course of 50 years, in the midst of a pandemic? Especially when the President has access to...a game show host. Well, not to the actual host, but to his Twitter account. No joke; in defending his approach to COVID-19 on Monday, Trump pointed to multiple tweets from Chuck Woolery, best known as the original host of "Wheel of Fortune" and the host of "Love Connection." In the past few years, Woolery has emerged as a far-right conspiracist and, drawing on the extensive scientific expertise that one develops while awarding $200 for a C and $600 for two Bs, has determined that the whole coronavirus pandemic is a hoax.

We hardly need to point out what the issue here is. Even with the most skilled leadership at the top, the COVID-19 ship has largely sailed at this point, and there is no real possibility of producing an outcome like the ones seen in, say, South Korea or Germany. Further, even if that was possible, and was somehow accomplished in the next month or two, Trump would not get the credit. So, he's concluded his only option is to go all-in on the COVID-19 denial. Fauci represents a rather large fly in that ointment, especially since the ban on TV appearances hasn't actually silenced him. He still talks to the scientific community, and to print outlets, and continues to speak truth to power. Fauci has been more than willing, for example, to share the news that the latest projections call for 200,000 Americans dead by Election Day.

So, are we headed toward Fauci's termination, likely on a Friday evening? No. The optics of firing Fauci would be very bad, but so too were the optics of pardoning Roger Stone, and that didn't faze Trump one bit. The real problem is that Fauci is protected by laws meant to...wait for it...insulate civil servants from political pressure. If the President wanted to can the good doctor, then first he would have to find someone above Fauci in the HHS hierarchy to do it. Secretary Alex Azar probably wouldn't play ball, and NIH Director Francis Collins definitely wouldn't. And even if the President found his Robert Bork, there is a lengthy termination process, in which hearings would be held, and cause must be shown. Fauci has been at this long enough to know how to keep his nose clean, and to avoid giving cause. So, even if the process got to the hearing stage, it would end with egg on the President's face, and would be front-page news for days (or weeks).

In other words, trying to fire Fauci is a dead end. Multiple dead ends, in fact. And so, all that's left is to try to undermine and trivialize him. Given his vast experience, calm demeanor, support in the mainstream science community and media, and lack of personal agenda, it's not likely to work with anyone beyond the base, and maybe the occasional game show host.

In addition, even if Trump succeeded, Fauci probably would not go gentle into that good night. He would probably hold press conferences and appear on television regularly. He might say that if Trump is reelected and continues his current policies, somewhere between half a million and a million Americans would die of COVID-19, many of them in the swing states of Florida and Arizona. Well, he probably would leave out "the swing states of" but the voters there would get the message. Since Fauci has more credibility with most voters than Trump, the President cannot afford to have Fauci outside the tent speaking truth to power. Better to have him inside the tent and semi-gagged. (Z)

About Those Forced School Reopenings

As part of his program of COVID-19 denial, Donald Trump has demanded that schools reopen in the fall, at risk of having their federal funding cut. His notion, ostensibly, is that if students go back to school, then parents can go back to full-time work. And if parents can go back to full-time work, then the economy will come zooming back to life, and he will ride that momentum to a reelection victory. Talk about your magical thinking.

In any event, the plan—if you can even call it that—is falling apart. On Monday, school officials in (more liberal) Los Angeles County and (more conservative) San Diego County both announced that they would begin the year with virtual instruction, and that they might eventually go to face-to-face, but they might not. Miami-Dade, which was specifically held out by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as a model for other districts to follow as they reopen, is now tapping the brakes hard as Florida evolves into the nation's #1 hotspot. Officials in Chicago, Houston, New York City, Washington, D.C., and other locales have also made clear that, at most, students will attend school in person a couple of days a week in the fall.

There is no question that, under pandemic-free circumstances, students are best served by in-person instruction. But the barriers that school districts face under current circumstances are substantial. We've noted some of them already, but let's put together a fuller list, all in one spot:

  • Space: Most schools do not have enough space to allow students to sit in a classroom and maintain social distancing. They could (and presumably will) wear masks, but that's not going to get it done when sharing space for 6-7 hours a day. And that's before we talk about communal situations like cafeterias, hallways, locker rooms, and so forth.

  • Student Risk: It is true that younger people seem to be less likely to contract COVID-19, and less likely to have really bad outcomes if they do. On the other hand, consider the Fauci item above and think about what we did not know about COVID-19 six months ago, or even three months ago. Then consider what we might find out in the next six months. Maybe it turns out that the current thinking is entirely wrong, and that kids are just as vulnerable as anyone else. Maybe it turns out that certain populations of kids—say, those of a particular ethnicity, or who are lacking a particular gene, or who have an underlying health condition, or who live in a particular climate—are at risk. Do we want to turn the nation's schools into the world's largest virology experiment?

  • Faculty and Staff Risk: A major part of the reason that schools were shut down in the first place was to protect faculty and staff, many of whom are senior citizens (or near-senior citizens) and/or have underlying health conditions that are known to put them at higher risk for COVID-19 (and for serious complications from the disease). One would hope that Americans would not wish to put these folks at risk. And regardless of what Americans think, the faculty and staff themselves may not be willing to play Russian roulette. One survey, way back in May, revealed that 20% of teachers were unwilling to return to the classroom while the pandemic is underway. A more recent survey, covering only the city of Chicago, put the figure above...70%. At a time when resources and faculty time will be spread very thin, the loss of 20% of your labor force would be a backbreaker. Anything above that, and it gets even more grim.

  • Online Classes: Online classes are a very different beast than in-person classes, with different forms of presenting information, different kinds of assignments, etc. It is challenging for both students and teachers to shift back and forth. And it is nearly impossible for a teacher to simultaneously prep and teach both sorts of classes. There just isn't time. So, any model that involves "18 students will take the in-person version of the class, and 14 others will take the online version" is not plausible without additional faculty.

  • Educational Experience: Again, in-person is almost always better than online, all other things being equal. But if students have to wear masks, and if they can't have recess time, and they have to eat lunch in shifts, and their teacher has to step out for a month due to illness to be replaced by whatever substitute the district can find, and so on and so forth, they are going to have a lousy educational experience and aren't going to learn a whole lot. Further, even the most optimistic folks aren't trying to say that no students will get sick. What happens if a student is incapacitated for a month, or six weeks, or longer? Can they plausibly catch up? Probably not, especially with teachers stretched too thin to give them one-on-one help. And if that's the case, then what? Do they just go through the motions and repeat a year, lagging their cohort for the rest of their educational career? Do they take a long vacation and try again in Fall 2021?

  • Legalities: Nobody's talking about this, as far as we can find. However, there are some significant legal issues that are likely to come into play here if schools proceed injudiciously. One of the biggies is that most faculty and staff are protected by unions, and the unions can be expected to hold the line on safety, particularly for high-risk faculty and staffers. Imagine that a school district orders a 56-year-old asthmatic 8th grade teacher with hypertension back to work, and that teacher refuses for (justifiable) health reasons. Then what? If the school tries to fire the teacher (and probably even if they try to withhold pay for a year), they'll be hit with a grievance, which takes even more time and money to fight, and still leaves the classroom unstaffed. Another big issue here is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which gives substantial protections to both faculty/staff and students for a broad range of conditions, including underlying chronic health problems. If the parents of a fifth grader with a history of circulatory issues insists that their child simply cannot be exposed to COVID-19, and demands that they be accommodated, the school district would probably be compelled to offer them an alternate (online) mode of instruction. And then we're back to the problem above, that one faculty member can't plausibly create two versions of their course at the same time.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it does cover some of the major challenges that school districts are looking at right now, with roughly six weeks left until school resumes. No wonder Los Angeles and San Diego have already put their feet down. Anyone who knows anything about education (i.e., not Trump and DeVos) would recognize that these things cannot be dismissed with the wave of a hand, and that the best you can hope for is that districts work through them as best as is possible, adopting different (and flexible) solutions as dictated by local circumstances.

In the end, Trump's bluster on this subject will surely prove to be much ado about nothing. First of all, his ability to follow through on his threat is very limited; most of the money is not subject to his control. Further, in his calmer moments, one imagines that someone will point out to him that if hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands of kids get sick in the middle of October, their parents are likely to register their displeasure at the ballot box in November. (Z)

About that Economy Rebounding

As noted above, Donald Trump does not care about the nation's schools, per se. He just wants things to get back to normal, so the economy can rebound. The difficulties with the "back to school" directive, including the pushback from many of the nation's largest districts, are indirectly undermining the President's economic dreams. Meanwhile, there were two bits of news on Monday that are more in the "directly undermining" category.

To start, there is the budget deficit. Generally speaking, giving out a giant tax cut, particularly in boom times, is not a wise economic plan. Then, add to that a pandemic and reduced employment/economic activity, leading to reduced tax revenue. Finally, for the icing on this downer of a cake, add in vast spending outlays designed to stimulate the economy (or, at very least, to keep it from total collapse). That is a recipe for the largest monthly budget deficit in U.S. history, $864 billion in June. That breaks the record of $738 billion set in...April of this year, which breaks the record of $235 billion set in...February of this year. The best guess is that the deficit for the whole fiscal year is going to check in at a cool $3.5 trillion.

Then there is the trade deficit. Despite the best laid plans of mice and Trumps, the tariffs on China do not seem to be working very well. The totals for May were just released, and they're nothing to write home about. Specifically, the trade deficit rose 9.7%, to $54.6 billion. That is the third straight monthly increase, and the trend is expected to continue into June and July. Actually, in something of an irony, COVID-19 may be helping Trump here, because trade is down worldwide. If not for that, the trade deficit might be even worse.

Needless to say, the titanic failure of his economic program isn't going to stop Trump from running on the economy. He's already got commercials in heavy rotation that say "I made the economy great once, and I can do it again." However, his reality distortion field only extends so far. The folks on Wall Street are not especially interested in his spin, and if current trends continue, things could get rocky there. Meanwhile, and probably more importantly, it is impractical for the government to keep dumping so much money into the economy when it's taking so little in. Congress may be forced to withdraw some of the stilts being used to prop the economy up. And if so, well, let's just say Trump's not likely to get the dramatically improved economy he longs for. (Z)

Desperation Sets in for Trump Campaign

At this point, 3,000 words into this post, perhaps you get the sense that Donald Trump's reelection campaign has a few things to worry about. If so, then you would be right. And we're dealing with a candidate who: (1) desperately needs someone to blame when things go wrong, and (2) never, ever blames himself. And so, with WHO, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the nation's schools, and Dr. Anthony Fauci all having taken turns in recent days, the blame wheel has spun back around to campaign manager Brad Parscale.

You thought you had dodged the bullet after the Tulsa fiasco, Brad? Not so fast. The President's polling is falling, a lot of newly hired staffers are running Parscale down behind his back, and Jared Kushner and Hope Hicks—as insider as it gets with Donald Trump—have never liked Parscale. A lot of non-insiders (donors, members of Congress) do like him, which may be what's saving his bacon for now (well, that and the fact that Parscale arranged to have himself twice inserted into a Trump commercial in high-rotation on Fox News). However, he's being left out of the loop an awful lot these days for someone who is ostensibly in charge. He may not last the month.

Meanwhile, a fair number of insiders in Trump's orbit think they have identified the perfect surrogate to go out and hit the campaign trail on his behalf. That would be none other than...Michael Flynn. The general idea (no pun intended) is that he can whine and moan about the deep state, either in person or on TV, and the base will absolutely eat it up. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who last ran a successful campaign in 1998, said "He's the perfect example of deep state victimization. Pretty powerful."

If the campaign decides to make use of Flynn, No doubt the base will love it, but it will mean the campaign has abandoned any intention of trying to expand its support beyond the base. In particular, for the remaining college-educated suburbanites who might still consider voting for Trump, Flynn will be like waving a red flag in their faces, reminding them of the President's propensity for cronyism, and his often-corrupt behavior. Exactly how many times can a presidential candidate double down on a base-only strategy? Well, we're already on the 12th or 13th one, and it's not even August yet. (Z)

Biden Campaign Gets Serious about Latino Outreach

One of the biggest criticisms of the Biden campaign is that it is not doing enough to appeal to Latino voters. This stuck out like something of a sore thumb for two reasons. First, because Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) did quite well with Latino voters this cycle, and the failure of Biden 2020 to follow up on that seemed a missed opportunity. Second, because Latino voters could be the deciders in several key states, most obviously Arizona and Texas.

Either the Biden campaign heard the carping, or they had a plan all along. Either way, they threw their Latino outreach operation into high gear on Monday. This includes hiring a large number of Latino strategists (including some who worked for Sanders), retaining the polling firm Latino Decisions, and investing $1 million in Spanish-language campaign materials. This is in addition to the Spanish-language ads the campaign is already airing in Florida and Arizona, with the narrator's accent tailored to the target audience (Tucson and Phoenix get ads with a Mexican-accented narrator, Miami's narrator is Cuban-accented, and Orlando and Tampa's narrator has a Puerto Rican accent).

Ultimately, it is exceedingly implausible that a modern, national, billion-dollar campaign run by a major party would have such an obvious blind spot. It was inevitable that Biden 2020 would get serious about this, and now it apparently has. (Z)

Mary Trump Is Ungagged

On Monday, New York judge Hal Greenwald lifted the gag order he had imposed on Mary Trump. That means that she is now free to appear anywhere and everywhere to discuss her critical memoir of her uncle Donald Trump, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man, which has its official release date today. Greenwald's finding was that Robert Trump, who actually brought the suit, failed to make a case for embargoing the book (or its author).

How much harm will be done to the President, now that his niece is free to appear on "60 Minutes," "Meet the Press," and "The Daily Show"? The smart money says: "Zero." These tell-all books seem to generate a lot of initial buzz, but they don't seem to move the needle much, if at all. After all, it's not terribly likely that members of the base are purchasing copies of the books and reading them, or tuning in to hear Mary Trump (or Bob Woodward, or John Bolton, or Michael Wolfe) dump on their hero. That said, if there is a bit that could linger, it's gotta be the claim that Trump paid someone to take his SATs. That led the coverage when all the reviews came out last week, it's something concrete and verifiable that one or more reporters might look into, and if it's true, it's a clear-cut fraud. Recall how much anger there was nine months ago when it was revealed that wealthy people were sneaking their kids into USC through the back door. It will probably be forgotten once the President does another half-dozen shocking and inappropriate things (in other words, in about four days), but it's at least possible it could become a problem for him. (Z)

COVID-19 Diaries, The Return

Programming Note: The COVID Diaries took a break, due primarily to a need to recalibrate the production process a little bit. But today, they make their return.

Months of denial, mismanagement and misinformation are finally taking their toll. Americans were barely social distancing enough to keep the pandemic somewhat under control. Then many of us (with encouragement from conservative leaders) became less vigilant and COVID-19 came roaring back, and we are now crashing and burning.

This item will examine hospitalization data. Testing data is less reliable and subject to criticism. Here are the Florida data:

There were about 1,000 new
cases a day throughout April and May and into mid-June, and then they shot up, such that now it's about 10,000 new cases a day

Florida hospitalizations were basically flat until 2 weeks ago. It now appears that Florida data are seriously increasing, but still not exponentially.

Texas data looks similarly serious:

Texas was experiencing 
about 2,000 new cases a day in May, through mid-June, and then shot up to around 10,000 a day as well

Houston has gotten so bad that they are turning patients away from ERs.

There are similar graphs from other states, but these two provide a clear idea of what is in store for any parts of the country that do not take COVID-19 seriously. It would be better if the rest of the U.S. learned from the experiences of New Jersey and New York, rather than following in their footsteps.

For the last 5 days, the U.S. posted 700-1,000 deaths/day (about a 30% increase over the prior week). That is still a long way from the disturbingly high numbers in April and early May, but if the entire country does not return to more aggressive social distancing behaviors (masks, restrictions on gatherings, lockdowns, etc.), we might regress to those tragic levels very soon.

The U.S. continues to be materially worse than many other countries dealing with COVID-19. Canada, Germany, France, Italy, China (if you believe their numbers), and South Korea all proved that it was possible to control the spread of the virus. The U.S. is joined by India, Mexico, Iran, Colombia, and South Africa as countries that are not managing the pandemic well.

Keep in mind that in relatively few places in the U.S. did we really stop COVID-19 in its tracks. It was hoped that our social distancing would have kept COVID-19 more-or-less under control until fall when the kids go back to school. However, with so many people ignoring social distancing, for many states, R0 has risen significantly above 1.

If there is any good to be found in this resurgence, it is that it might serve as a wake-up call that might actually convince Americans to take COVID-19 more seriously. Donald Trump even wore a mask to Walter Reed Hospital Saturday. Additionally, there is increasing willingness to resist Trump's denial strategy. The CDC reasserted that the school reopening guidelines would not be rewritten, several GOP senators seem to have "scheduling conflicts" that would prevent them from attending their national convention, and the Texas Republican convention in Houston is set to go online. This is all too little and too late, but it's a start.

As an example of how school opening is being addressed, New Jersey released its 104-page guide for reopening schools. Even though it is more detailed than the 10-page guide that the CDC published, it is still a set of policies and not a specific plan.

Schools in New Jersey start on Sept. 3. The state declared that "absent a shift in the public health data, school buildings will open in some capacity for in-person instruction and operations in the Fall." That gives school districts two months to prepare for a complete overhaul of the educational system. Each district will come up with its own plan based on the above guidelines. The state is asking the school districts to take this guide, revamp the educational system, train the staff, and be fully ready by September 3, but the document provides a set of guidelines that will require a minimum of six months to implement (also see above).

Will we get a vaccine? Probably, but not this year. As background, vaccine development is a long, complex process, usually taking 5-10 years, with total costs typically ranging from $500M to $1B. 93% of "promising" vaccines are ultimately unsuccessful. Vaccines can also be dangerous; potential SARS and H1N1 vaccines were tested that would protect you from getting infected, but which could damage your lungs.

There are 170 COVID-19 vaccines currently under development, using several different strategies. It only takes one home run, but few possible vaccines are in human trials and there are very few published vaccine studies on human subjects, as yet. There have been three promising studies performed on monkeys. We might have a vaccine in 12-18 months, but only if we are really lucky, or we start using a vaccine before it's proven safe and effective.

A major concern is that a vaccine is rushed out the door without enough time to thoroughly test it. The political pressure to announce a "beautiful vaccine" prior to the election will be so great that science might take a back seat to political expediency. (PD)

Dr. Paul Dorsey works in medical software, providing software to support medical practices and hospitals nationwide.

Today's Presidential Polls

Will the Trump campaign try to play defense in places that are close, but still seem safe, like Missouri? Maybe not. On the other hand, leaving places like that to their own devices is the exact mistake that Hillary Clinton made. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Missouri 43% 50% Jun 23 Jul 01 YouGov
Montana 42% 51% Jul 09 Jul 10 PPP

Today's Senate Polls

Montana doesn't get polled much, but the three times it has been, Bullock's been ahead. In the last century, the state has sent 13 Democrats to the Senate and just 3 Republicans, so it's not that out of character for Bullock to be the apparent frontrunner. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Montana Steve Bullock 46% Steve Daines* 44% Jul 09 Jul 10 PPP

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul13 Trump Is Being Stoned
Jul13 Florida Sets a New Record for COVID-19 Cases
Jul13 The Economic Recovery May Be Fizzling
Jul13 The Lincoln Project Raised $17 Million in Q2
Jul13 Primary Season Is Not Finished
Jul13 It Ain't Easy Being Green
Jul13 New York Judge Speeds Up Trump's Tax Case
Jul13 The Border Wall is Crumbling Already
Jul13 GOP Registrations Are Outpacing Democratic Registrations
Jul13 Democratic House Map is Shrinking
Jul13 Elissa Slotkin Is Sounding the Alarm
Jul13 Washington Team Name On Its Way Out
Jul13 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul13 Today's Senate Polls
Jul12 Sunday Mailbag
Jul11 Pardon Me?
Jul11 Saturday Q&A
Jul11 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul11 Today's Senate Polls
Jul10 Trump Has a Bad Day on the Tax Front
Jul10 Stone, Meet Iron
Jul10 Time to Shift Gears on the Coronavirus?
Jul10 CDC Won't Play Ball, After All
Jul10 Maybe Jacksonville Won't Play Ball, Either
Jul10 Biden Speaks
Jul10 It Sure Looks Like the Democrats Are Unified
Jul10 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul10 Today's Senate Polls
Jul09 Supreme Court Ruling on Trump's Taxes Will Be Released Today
Jul09 CDC Capitulates to Trump and Will Issue New Guidance on School Openings
Jul09 Republicans Are Split over the Convention
Jul09 What If It Really Gets Crazy?
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Jul09 Vindman Retires but Duckworth Is Not Backing Down
Jul09 Bollier Raises $3.7 Million
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Jul08 New Jersey, Delaware Vote
Jul08 Mary Trump Book "Leaks"
Jul08 White House Again Searches for Leakers
Jul08 Republicans Underwhelmed by Trump Campaign
Jul08 Democratic Senate Candidates Are Raking It In
Jul08 Carlson Launches 2024 Campaign
Jul08 Roberts Was Briefly Hospitalized Last Month
Jul08 Bolsonaro Tests Positive for COVID-19
Jul08 Trump Administration Formally Begins WHO Withdrawal
Jul07 SCOTUS News, Part I: States Can Punish Faithless Electors
Jul07 SCOTUS News, Part II: No Robo-calls to Cell Phones
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