Two GOP Senators Running Ads Outside Home States
How to Run an Election in a Pandemic
House Passes Coronavirus Relief Package
Brazil Ambassador Tests Positive
Boris Johnson Spurns Mass Closures
Gillum’s Overdosing Companion Was a Gay Escort
• Candidate Biden Gives an Audition for Role of President Biden
• Wyden Wants National Vote-by-Mail
• U.S. Strikes Iranian-backed Militias
• Doing the Sanders Math
• Trump Tries to Cut Sessions Off at the Knees
Presumably, items like this one will be a regular occurrence for a while, as there's no particular sign of the COVID-19 virus (or its impacts) abating. In any event, Thursday was yet another day when the pandemic continued to disrupt life as we know it.
To start, the stock market had yet another lousy day, with the Dow Jones dropping 1,868 points. That would be the fourth time since Feb. 27 that the Index has exceeded pre-2020 record for a one-day loss (−1,175.21 points on Feb. 5, 2018). At the close of business Thursday, the Dow was at 21,200.62. On the day that Donald Trump took office, it was at 19,732.40. So, most of the growth that he crowed about on Twitter has evaporated. In fact, if we account for inflation, it has entirely evaporated. The $11.5 trillion that market gained after Jan. 20, 2017, is now all gone.
Meanwhile, the wave of high-profile cancellations and closures continued. Broadway has gone dark, Disney World and Disneyland have closed, and the LDS Church has suspended all services worldwide. The list of universities that have suspended classes, or moved them online for the foreseeable future, grows longer each day. In the world of sports, on Thursday Major League Baseball joined the NBA in suspending play, and so did the NHL. The Players' Championship (PGA) and the NCAA Basketball Tournaments, Men's and Women's, were both canceled. We're getting close to the point that ESPN is going to have to fill its daily schedule with coverage of extreme ironing, chess boxing, and ferret-legging. In any event, all of these cancellations and suspensions are certainly not going to help the economy, nor calm whatever unhappy emotions people may be feeling.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 has infected a number of high-profile folks, and it continues to creep closer and closer to the Oval Office (if it's not already there). Actor Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson announced on Wednesday that they have contracted the virus; and on Thursday it was a number of prominent political figures, including Sophie Trudeau, wife of Canadian PM Justin Trudeau (who is now self-quarantining), as well as Fabio Wajngarten, who is an aide to Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. That means that we are presumably close to the day when a major world leader announces that they have been diagnosed. And since Wajngarten interacted with Trump and Mike Pence just days before being diagnosed, it's possible that world leader will be an American.
Or maybe that world leader already is an American. Despite the interactions with Wajngarten, the White House said on Thursday that Trump and Pence have not yet been tested for COVID-19, nor do they need to be tested, since they "had almost no interactions" with the Brazilian (though apparently enough interactions that the three men were photographed together). Anyhow, if all of this is true, then it certainly seems very irresponsible for Trump to go untested, and also at odds with his well-known germophobic tendencies. On the other hand, if he was tested, and if he did test positive, can we really believe he'd admit that? Trump's well-established habit of lying (including about COVID-19), his desire to downplay the seriousness of the disease, and the less-than-healthy demeanor he displayed during Wednesday night's address raise the possibility, at least, that the President already has the disease and that he's covering it up.
And speaking of Trump's speech, the savage reviews continued to roll in on Thursday. A further sampling (on top of the ones we already noted on Wednesday):
- Margaret Carlson, New York Daily News: Diagnosis: incompetence: Trump's Oval Office speech on coronavirus
- Charles P. Pierce, Esquire: Trump's Coronavirus Speech Was a Cry for Help
- Matt Shuham, TPM: The Bizarre List Of Errors In Trump's Coronavirus Speech
- David Smith, The Guardian (UK): "He's gonna get us all killed": sense of unease after Trump coronavirus speech
- Peter Bergen, CNN: Trump's coronavirus speech was a disaster
- Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, New York Times: Trump Struggles to Unify a Nation on Edge
- Michael Gerson, Washington Post: Trump's coronavirus address was an opportunity. He butchered it.
- Max Boot, Washington Post: Who could have predicted Trump would be such a bad crisis manager? Everyone, actually.
- Ellie Hall, BuzzFeed News: Trump Addressed The Country About The Coronavirus. He Got Three Huge Things Wrong.
- Eric Black, MinnPost: Trump's Oval Office address on COVID-19 hits a new low
Plenty of behind-the-scenes details about the speech leaked out Thursday, including that it was written primarily by First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner and Senior Adviser Stephen Miller (no kidding), and that there was a fierce battle over whether to prioritize public health (what the CDC folks wanted) or to prioritize economic health (what Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow wanted). Surely you don't need us to tell you which side won that little debate, but here's a hint: This president has never gone on Twitter to brag about how high the National Health Index has risen.
Unfortunately for Trump, and for everyone else, an address that put the health of the economy and the stock market above all else had the exact opposite effect of what was intended, as analysts agreed that the President did far more harm than good. The more tangible effect of the speech was to further damage the already vulnerable airlines, as their stocks took another deep dive on Thursday now that travel will be restricted. The more amorphous, but probably more significant, effect was to create uncertainty on Wall Street. The bankers and the stockbrokers and the like want to know that there is a plan, and they want to know the rough timeline it will take for the plan to unfold, so that they can adjust accordingly. Team Trump did nothing to convey that his administration has an actual plan, much less to give clarity on how long we should expect the worst phase of the COVID-19 pandemic to last.
That doesn't mean the government is doing nothing, though. The New York Federal Reserve announced on Thursday that it will inject $1.5 trillion into the economy to try to stabilize things. We shall see if that helps, but the best-case scenario is presumably that the money is just a band-aid. Meanwhile, it is interesting that when Barack Obama dumped considerably less than $1.5 trillion into saving banks and businesses, there was much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth on both the right and the left. The Fed's announcement, by contrast, barely attracted any notice. (Z)
With Donald Trump having tried his hand at a COVID-19 speech, and having struck out, Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden thought he would give it a shot. And so, on Thursday, he delivered his own address on the pandemic. As with Trump's speech, we suggest you watch Biden's speech (at least part of it) before you read what we have to say. Here is a link, and here is an embedded version:
(Note: You may need to click on the link above; for some reason, some readers are seeing the Trump speech embedded rather than the Biden speech. We have no idea why, but it may be related to the browser being used.)
And now, our observations:
- It Was Substantive: Biden laid out a series of specific policy ideas (that he invited
Trump to borrow, en masse). He prioritized public health over the economy, arguing (quite correctly) that "the markets
will respond strong, to strong, steady and capable leadership that addresses the root of the problem." To the extent
that Biden did address economic concerns, his focus was on addressing the challenges of those who will suffer most due
to the loss of paychecks. He also directed viewers to a
plan of action on his website. How the Trump administration did not think to include that in the President's
Wednesday night speech, we do not know. Maybe the White House doesn't have a website.
- It Was Presidential: Sometimes, style is as important as substance. Or more important, even.
When there's a crisis, people want to believe that the country has someone with a steady hand guiding the ship of state.
Biden's speech had gravitas, it had some emotion, and it conveyed competence. This is not to say that Biden did not
stumble over his words on occasion—he just doesn't do nearly 20 minutes of "perfect"—but his performance was
definitely statesmanlike. And when you're responding to a speech that was a total disaster, then "pretty good" looks
- It Was a Campaign Speech: Make no mistake. Biden wants to help with COVID-19, but he also
wants to be president. The address was staged in "presidential" fashion (e.g., flags in the background), and the
candidate took a number of direct shots at his (likely) soon-to-be-opponent Donald Trump. For example, this:
Let me be crystal clear. The coronavirus does not have a political affiliation. It will infect Republicans, independents and Democrats alike and will not discriminate based on national origin, race, gender or ZIP code. It will touch people in positions of power as well as the most vulnerable in our society. And it will not stop. Banning all travel from Europe or any other part of the world may slow it, but as we've seen it will not stop it. And travel restrictions based on favoritism and politics rather than a risk will be counterproductive.Or this:
Public fears are being compounded by pervasive lack of trust in this president, fueled by adversarial relationships with the truth that he continues to have. Our government's ability to respond effectively has been undermined by hollowing out our agencies and disparagement of science and our ability to drive a global response is dramatically, dramatically undercut by the damage Trump has done to our credibility and our relationships around the world.In short, the pivot toward the general election that began on Tuesday night is now well underway.
As with Trump's speech, the reviews of Biden's speech came quickly. Unlike Trump's, they were very positive. A sampling:
- Eric Levitz, New York Magazine: Biden Displays Unpresidential Competence in Coronavirus Remarks
- David Gergen, CNN: In speech, Biden shows how a normal president responds in crisis
- Hanna Trudo, The Daily Beast: Biden Coronavirus Speech Was Designed to Look Presidential. It Worked.
- Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post: Joe Biden already sounds as if he's the president
- Tim Murphy, Mother Jones: Joe Biden's Coronavirus Speech Was Everything Trump's Wasn't
- Jason Easley, PoliticusUSA: Even Republicans Praise Biden's Coronavirus Speech As Presidential
Trump was all over Twitter after Biden's address, with messages like this one:
Sleepy Joe Biden was in charge of the H1N1 Swine Flu epidemic which killed thousands of people. The response was one of the worst on record. Our response is one of the best, with fast action of border closings & a 78% Approval Rating, the highest on record. His was lowest!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2020
So, obviously, the President took the right lessons from the speech. (Z)
Already, COVID-19 is affecting this year's elections. All three remaining major presidential candidates have made the issue part of their campaigns, and all three have been compelled to cancel multiple campaign events that were planned, due to safety concerns. It also appears to be affecting the President's approval rating, which has dropped in every poll that's been released in the last week (relative to the previous entry of that poll).
Some politicians, however, are taking a slightly longer view; thinking less about this week and this month, and more about what happens when people try to cast their ballots in November. In particular, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), for whom election security and ballot access have always been something of a crusade, is thinking in this way. He has filed a pair of bills in the Senate, one that would provide $500 million to states to help cope with voting-related disruptions caused by COVID-19, and another that would make voting-by-mail nationwide and mandatory under certain circumstances.
Needless to say, the U.S. Senate has, for many years, been the place where voting-access bills go to die. One has to imagine that is what will happen here, although the optics of this particular circumstance may make that very difficult. If Wyden's bill does pass, though, it could have some pretty monumental implications. First of all, if the federal government gets partly or fully into the business of running elections, that would certainly make it much easier to rectify some of the well-known problems that already exist (like insecure voting machines). Further, if vote-by-mail exists nationwide, it makes it much harder to execute shenanigans like voter ID laws. It would also make it more likely that low-turnout voters, like young people, cast ballots. All of these things would seem to work, in general, in favor of the Democrats. While Wyden is probably not looking at things from this vantage point. it's fair to bet that other Democrats, and many Republicans, are. (Z)
On Wednesday, Iranian-backed groups launched a strike on a base that houses U.S. troops, killing two of them (along with one British soldier). On Thursday, the U.S. responded in kind, launching strikes against several sites in Iraq that are known as bases of operations for Iranian-backed militia groups.
Did Iran use COVID-19 as an opportunity to launch an attack? Is the Trump administration trying to create a distraction with its response? Given the track record of both Iran and Team Trump, these are reasonable questions, not that we'll ever get answers. In any event, when the U.S. and Iran were taking shots at each other back in January, there was (legitimate) concern that the situation could deteriorate and turn into World War III. The fact that the world's attention is currently focused on dealing with Spanish Influenza II does not make that concern any less salient, even if the Iran-U.S. news is flying under the radar right now. Obviously, if a hot war did emerge, that would be another debit against candidate-for-reelection Donald Trump, who may already have more debits than he can deal with right now. (Z)
The presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) got a little bit of good news on Thursday, as enough mail-in ballots have been received for CNN to declare that he "won" California. On the other hand, the election gods giveth, and they taketh away; it's also become clear that, barring a miracle, Joe Biden is going to "win" Washington.
Anyhow, with delegate totals coming in fast and furious Tuesday night, we botched the math on Sanders' electoral hopes. So, let's take another look, doing what our fourth-grade math teacher demanded, and showing our work. At the moment, Sanders has 701 delegates. He would need 1,991 to claim the nomination. 1,991 minus 701 means he needs 1,290 more delegates. There are 2,294 available, and 1290/2294 equals 56.3%. That's a tough climb, though not as tough as the 65% we originally stuck him with.
And now, let's try to project into the future. This is necessarily going to be a little crude. In some states, including all the ones that vote in the next two weeks, there is current polling, and we used the average of those to award delegates. In other states, we have only polls taken while there were more candidates still running. In those cases, we awarded delegates in proportion to the support Joe Biden and Sanders got (so, if Biden polled at 30% and Sanders 20%, we gave Biden 60% of the delegates and Sanders 40%). And finally, in some states—particularly small ones, red ones, and/or ones that vote far in the future—we don't have polls at all. In those cases, we just split the delegates evenly.
Anyhow, with all that said, here's how things project, with the delegates each candidate looks likely to win, the running tally for Sanders, and the percentage of remaining delegates Sanders would need after each contest:
|Date||State||Delegates||Biden Del.||Sanders Del.||Sanders Tally||Pct. Needed|
|March 29||Puerto Rico||51||25||25||975||65.1%|
|June 2||District of Columbia||20||10||10|
|June 6||US Virgin Islands||7||3||3||1590||216.8%|
As you can see—and recall, we have up-to-date polling from all of the states that vote next week—Sanders is likely to reach the "needs about two-thirds of the remaining delegates" point on Tuesday. Under the Democrats' proportional system, that's basically not doable. If Sanders decides otherwise, however, then he will probably remain in the race for quite a bit longer, as the math does not take another sharply downward turn until the end of April. After the next really big primary day, on April 28, he will likely move to the brink of "mathematically impossible." And in early May, he is set to officially cross the Rubicon into "mathematically eliminated."
Assuming that these numbers basically hold, then, Sanders' campaign will come to an end on or before May 5 (likely before). His 2016 campaign, by contrast, did not end until June 16. And a major reason for that, ironically, is the superdelegates. Because those 400 or so folks did not cast their votes until the convention, they were thus technically "available" throughout the entire process in 2016, and thus kept Sanders' math from becoming too daunting (even though everyone knew the superdelegates would break heavily for Clinton). Now that the superdelegates are sidelined, specifically due to demands from Sanders and his supporters that happen, the Vermont Senator is likely to be eliminated much more quickly. (Z)
Though COVID-19 is dominating the headlines right now, there's still an election unfolding, and some very closely fought Senate contests underway. One of the closest is the Republican run-off in Alabama, for which former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville qualified with 33.4% of the vote, while AG Jeff Sessions made the cut with 31.6% of the vote.
Donald Trump pointedly did not make an endorsement in the first round of voting; with three candidates neck-and-neck-and-neck, he presumably did not want to be on the wrong horse yet again. But with only two Republicans left, the President has now jumped in, and thrown his support behind Tuberville. There have been two polls of the runoff; they gave Tuberville a 12-point lead and a 7-point lead, respectively. Since Tuberville already (slightly) outpolled Sessions at the ballot box, and since Trump remains quite popular in Alabama, it certainly looks like it will be the former Auburn coach who puts Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) out of work in November. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar12 Bears 1, Bulls 0
Mar12 Takeaways from This Week's Primaries
Mar12 Sanders Is Staying in the Race
Mar12 A Closer Look at Michigan Shows Biden Could Rebuild the Blue Wall
Mar12 Biden Leads in Three New National Polls
Mar12 Why Democrats Aren't Like Republicans
Mar12 What Do Prisoners Think about Politics
Mar12 Kelly Leads McSally in Arizona Senate Race
Mar11 Biden Rides High
Mar11 What Is Sanders' Next Move?
Mar11 Next Democratic Debate Will Be Sans Audience
Mar11 Yang Endorses Biden
Mar11 Trump Administration's Handling of COVID-19 Has Been Nothing Short of Shameful
Mar11 Judge Says Democrats Should Get Mueller Evidence
Mar10 COVID-19 Is Wreaking All Sorts of Economic Havoc
Mar10 Sanders Needs to Hope State Pollsters Are Wrong...
Mar10 ...And National Pollsters, Too
Mar10 Biden Picks Up Another Former Rival's Endorsement
Mar10 Democrats' Senate Hopes Are Looking Up
Mar10 Democrats Get Serious about Florida
Mar10 Six Former Wrestlers Point the Finger at Jim Jordan
Mar09 A Critical Week for Sanders Is at Hand
Mar09 New Rules Announced for the March 15 Debate
Mar09 Harris Endorses Biden
Mar09 The Race for Veep Has Begun
Mar09 Biden Scales Up
Mar09 Close Trump Associate Is Recruiting Former Spies to Infiltrate Liberal Groups
Mar09 U.S. Officials Warn of Virus-Related Disruptions Ahead
Mar09 Romanoff Beats Hickenlooper in Colorado Caucuses
Mar09 Romney Is His Old Self Again
Mar08 Sunday Mailbag
Mar07 "Mick the Knife" Gets Cut
Mar07 Saturday Q&A
Mar06 A Million Selfies, All for Nothing
Mar06 Where Do Things Go From Here?, Part I: Biden vs. Clinton in Words
Mar06 Where Do Things Go From Here?, Part II: Biden vs. Clinton in Numbers
Mar06 Where Do Things Go From Here?, Part III: The Polls
Mar06 Where Do We Go From Here?, Part IV: Sanders Game Changers
Mar06 Trump Gives Democrats a Late Christmas Gift
Mar05 Biden Has More Delegates Now
Mar05 Bloomberg Calls It Quits
Mar05 What Happens Next?
Mar05 Takeaways from Super Tuesday
Mar05 Who Voted for Whom?
Mar05 What Happens to Delegates When Candidates Drop Out?
Mar05 Other Key Races
Mar05 Bullock May Run for the Senate after All
Mar05 New York State Cancels Republican Primary
Mar04 A Whole New Ballgame