• Sanders Goes on the Attack
• Looking at Potential Biden VP Candidates
• Polls Predict a Good Tuesday for Biden
• Honest Graft
• What Trump's COVID-19 Bubble Looks Like
• Gillum's Career Appears to Be Over
Yesterday, we wrote that it was no longer possible to deny the undeniable, and that even Donald Trump has gotten on board with the idea that everyone's got to batten down the hatches and do their best to prep for the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe we were wrong. On Sunday, the President returned to his habit of trying to bend reality to his will, conceding that COVID-19 is "a very contagious virus. It's incredible," but also declaring that it's something that his administration already has "tremendous control" of.
That, of course, is a falsehood. And unlike most of the 20,000 or so additional falsehoods he's issued forth with since January 20, 2017, it endangers the lives of Americans. Obviously, there are elements of the President's base who not only believe everything he says, but also need what he says to be "true." And so, some of them will undoubtedly buy what Trump is selling, and take risks with their health and the health of others that they should not take. That said, this is also the ultimate test of Trump's reality distortion field, as the evidence he's lying is so abundant and noticeable. For what it is worth, Yahoo News tried to survey Trump supporters on the question of whether COVID-19 is "just a cold" or is something more serious, and found that they're about evenly divided on that. Still, if just 10% of the people who voted for Trump (6 million) behave as if this is much ado about nothing, that is more than enough to dramatically worsen the effects of the pandemic.
And speaking of the effects of COVID-19's being hard to ignore, the story of the day on Sunday was the CDC's announcement that gatherings of more than 50 people should be avoided. That triggered a pretty immediate response from private and public entities across the country, with the governors of Illinois, Washington, and California, among others, ordering the closure of various types of public establishments (most commonly restaurants, bars, theaters), and some (notably Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-CA) requiring that people who are immune-compromised or who are 65 or older self-quarantine. The mayors of some cities, most notably New York and Los Angeles, have also imposed significant limitations on public gatherings and have shut down schools.
Private business concerns have also responded to the CDC bulletin, with many voluntarily closing their establishments before the government could do it for them. The most noticeable of these is probably the MGM Group in Las Vegas, which operates about half of the major casinos on the Las Vegas Strip (the Bellagio, New York New York, the MGM Grand, etc.), and which announced that they will be temporarily shuttering all their casinos as of Monday and all their hotels as of Tuesday. The Caesar's group, which operates most of the remaining casinos, has already canceled all entertainment-related events, and will likely follow the MGM Group's lead very soon, effectively turning Sin City into a ghost town. So much for the city that never sleeps.
On the other hand, one cannot help noticing that there are some very large states that have yet to follow the leads of Illinois, Washington, and California and to take aggressive COVID-19 action. The ones that stick out like sore thumbs are Texas and Florida, with Florida being particularly noticeable given the number of senior residents who live in that state. That's not to say that Govs. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Greg Abbott (R-TX) have remained silent, but they certainly haven't asserted themselves in the way that their blue-state colleagues have. Is this another byproduct of the President's desire to downplay the crisis, and of the governors' fear of stepping on his toes? Could be. It may be instructive that Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH), who has generally held Trump at arm's length, has been noticeably proactive in responding to COVID-19, while emphasizing the importance of basing decisions "on science."
Oh, and if there are still doubts about whether Trump and his allies see this whole thing in primarily political terms, there were a couple of stories on Sunday that remind us of where they're coming from. Trump, for his part, offered a German company "large sums of money" if they would give his administration exclusive access to the COVID-19 vaccine they are working on. The upside: Trump would look heroic, as he "solves" the problem while other countries come up short. The downside: Hundreds of thousands or millions of people would die needlessly. It's nothing short of reprehensible that the President even made the proposal; obviously the Germans—who have confirmed the story, and are not happy about it—are not going to play ball. To give another example, the Senate is supposed to vote on the second COVID-19 relief bill today or tomorrow. Apparently, at the last minute, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and some of his caucus members tried to sneak some abortion limits into the bill. That's also pretty sleazy; whether one agrees or disagrees with keeping abortion legal, now is not the time to try to score "victories."
Undoubtedly, McConnell & Co. will pay no penalty for their shenanigans, which is why they figured they'd give it a try. Whether or not Trump pays a penalty, on the other hand, is a very different question. He continues to mishandle this whole thing, in ways that are obvious, and likely will have some long-lasting effects. Further, the market is still all over the place. Today is going to be another bad day; even though the Fed slashed interest rates to zero yesterday, Dow Futures were down 1,000 points as of 1:00 a.m. PT on Monday. If the President survives all of this economic and social upheaval, and gets reelected, then in his second term, he will truly be more bulletproof than Superman. (Z)
The last two Democrats standing (we're not counting Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI) met on Sunday for yet another candidates' debate. It's probably going to get good ratings, since the two candidates/no audience structure is fairly novel, and since lots of folks are stuck at home right now. Anyhow, the format we've been using for these recaps doesn't work so well with only two participants, so we're going to go with more of a straight analysis, and then we'll retool the format for either the next Democratic debate (if there is one), or possibly for the general election debates. Anyhow, our thoughts:
- The Format: Having fewer candidates, fewer moderators (three of them) and zero audience
members were all dramatic improvements over the previous debates. The DNC was trying to be "fair" this year, but in
future years they really need to be more draconian about the qualifying standards, because it's much more useful to hear
10 minutes more from frontrunning candidates than it is to hear 10 minutes from fringe candidates. There's also no
reason for a five-headed moderating panel; each sponsoring outlet should choose one person to represent them. And
getting rid of the audience, and the circus-like atmosphere, and the "ooh! ooh! ooh!" candidate hand-raising should be a
no-brainer. Sunday's meeting was unquestionably the most substantive debate so far, and far more illuminating than any
of its 10 predecessors. The only real complaint we have is that the candidates were occasionally allowed to seize
control and to interrogate each other. Those moments added little to the proceedings.
- Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) Performance: What the Vermont Senator would do was storyline
#1 heading into the debate. If we consider a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is "Sanders officially withdraws from the race at
the beginning, and spends the whole time telling his supporters why they should vote for Joe Biden" and 10 is "Sanders
brings his bazooka and tries to blow up the Democratic Party from within," then it was about a 7. Maybe an 8.
Sanders' primary strategy was, for lack of a better term, to play "gotcha" with Biden's record, particularly the votes the former Veep cast during his four decades in the Senate. So, we're talking things like the use of force resolution in Iraq, the Defense of Marriage Act, NAFTA, and—in particular—Social Security.
The full frontal assault on Biden's history with Social Security is something that's come up before, and that everyone on stage (Sanders, Biden, and the moderators) knew would be brought up last night. Sanders' attacks on this front were disingenuous, at best. He knows that bills are complicated things, and that negotiations over bills are more complicated still. Nonetheless, he tried to give the impression that Biden has consistently been willing to sacrifice Social Security to advance other priorities. Biden responded that he's certainly been a part of discussions where changes to Social Security were on the table, and conceded that he's voted once or twice to freeze Social Security increases during times of economic turmoil, but that he's never voted to cut Social Security, and that he's certainly not willing to sacrifice the program. Fact-checkers agree that Biden has the right of this; he's been consistent in supporting Social Security, and the only thing he's ever considered (and only rarely, and in the context of fixing the whole federal budget) is the possibility of reducing increases in benefits or freezing them for a year.
After Biden had given his answer, the moderators pointed out that Sanders had said very similar things about maybe needing to make adjustments to Social Security in the past, directing his attention in particular to an op-ed he wrote in 1996. The Vermont Senator said this was entirely different, and declared: "Incremental adjustments are what I advocated. Adjustments that I advocated and have advocated for years, is among other things, increasing the cost of living assistance. No, you're not going to find me ever calling for cuts to Social Security." In real time, between his words, his tone, and his demeanor, the impression Sanders left was that he's always been 100% behind Social Security, and that the only thing he's ever supported is increases in benefits. Maybe he has forgotten the specific content of that op-ed, or maybe he didn't think people would look it up. It's not too easy to find, as it was written a quarter-century ago for a very small newspaper (the Burlington Free Press), and is not freely available on the Internet. However, one of us (Z) happens to be a historian with pretty extensive institutional resources, and so we were able to dig up a copy of the op-ed. Here it is:
The argument here is clear: The realities of the overall federal budget may force adjustments in Social Security. This piece is most certainly not a call for increasing benefits, it's an assertion that the program must be retained, even if it's necessary to increase taxes and reduce benefits a bit. In short, Sanders was responding to the realities on the ground in 1996. If you look at the Politifact link above, this is the exact same period where Biden was pondering the same issues. And so, the amount of distance between the two men, back in the 1990s, was actually slight, regardless of how Sanders framed it yesterday.
Anyhow, the point here is that Sanders clearly entered the debate prepared to throw his Hail Mary pass, and he threw it. The Vermont Senator was not willing to explore, say, dementia, but he was willing to do whatever it takes to make Biden look like a phony Democrat, even if it required more than a little bit of spin. That, of course, is exactly what Sanders' base believes, and wants to hear him say.
Or, put another way, Sanders began this thing running a "base only" campaign, and he's going to stick with that until the bitter end (an end that does not look to be coming anytime soon). Even on those occasions when Sanders wasn't attacking Biden, he was saying things that will please the base, but that will not expand his support in any meaningful way. For example, in a series of questions that anyone and everyone knew was coming, the candidates were asked about how they would deal with COVID-19. Biden listed off a bunch of immediate, practical steps that he would take, if president, while Sanders launched into a dialogue about the importance of Medicare for All. In times of crisis, most people are thinking short-term, and want to hear the kinds of things Biden was saying, not the kinds of things Sanders was saying. To take another example, the Senator was given an opportunity to clarify or back off his remarks about Cuba, which are absolutely killing him in Florida. He refused. These positions may be "authentic," and they may thrill the base, but it is not plausible they will attract new votes and cause a change in the dynamics of the race.
What it amounts to, then, is that Sanders chose a path that we did not see coming. He's going to stay in the race and keep fighting, but he's going to try to do it without attracting any new votes. That's like a soccer team down 2-0 announcing that they're still going to win this thing with their lockdown defense. Lockdown defense is helpful, but you still need three goals. Sanders even argued, both during the debate and after, that he's clearly the more electable candidate because he gets young voters excited, and while they may not show up for the primaries, he's the one who can get them to show up in November. That's quite the theory, and cannot be proven or disproven. However, the bottom line is that it's a results-oriented business, and actual votes (and delegates) are what matter, not theories.
- Biden's Performance: Biden was sometimes good, sometimes very good, and generally came off
as presidential. He was at his best in the first half hour of the debate (mostly COVID-19 talk) and in the last half hour
(electability and closing statements). Most importantly, though he was occasionally a little bit shaky, he didn't have
any major gaffes, or even any moderate gaffes.
Biden's biggest misstep, by far, was not a verbal gaffe at all. It was that he let Sanders get his goat, and did a fair amount of counterpunching. This is understandable, given that nobody likes to be attacked. On the other hand, this was an opportunity to (1) rise above the fray, and (2) to hit Donald Trump hard, and Biden did not do nearly enough of either of those things. He did try to make an occasional nod toward Sanders and his base; for example, saying that he would get behind the idea of free college for anyone whose parents make less than $125,000 a year. But the former Veep should have done more bridge building and more Trump destructing.
Biden also wanted to make some positive headlines coming out of the debate, so he took the opportunity to confirm something that we all expected anyhow: if he gets the nomination, he will choose a woman as his running mate. Let the speculation about which woman begin (including below).
- The Bottom Line: Biden was above average, relative to the other 10 debates. Sanders was a shade below average, and his Hail Mary pass fell harmlessly in the end zone. There is zero chance this has any meaningful impact on the trajectory of the race, which makes Sunday a win for the former veep.
The 12th Democratic candidates' debate has been announced. It will take place...who knows when, at who knows where? Depending on what happens in upcoming primaries, and what Sanders does, it might not even happen. Pretty much the only thing we can be certain of is that Tulsi Gabbard won't be debating. (Z)
We were going to do this piece anyhow, even before Joe Biden committed to picking a female running mate. Now that he's made his announcement, however, it's particularly apropos. We're going to work with the ranking compiled by The Washington Post (before the debates), to which we will add our sense of the pros and cons for each:
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)
Pros: Will cement the ticket with black voters, may help with Asian voters, young, good successor
Cons: California is in the bag, rubs some progressives the wrong way for locking up many black men as Calif. AG
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN)
Pros: Good campaigner, will help lock up the upper Midwest, good Oval Office partner, good successor
Cons: Some are turned off by her abusive behavior toward staff, all-white ticket
Pros: Charismatic, good speaker, will help in the South, could flip Georgia, young
Cons: Limited political experience including none on the national level
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM)
Pros: Latina, has executive experience should she need to take over, good campaigner
Cons: Not well known, some folks may not know she's a Latina, New Mexico has few EVs and is in the bag
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI)
Pros: Could help flip a key swing state, young, has executive experience
Cons: Zero Washington experience, all-white ticket
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)
Pros: Latina, Nevada is slightly swingy, excellent campaigner and fundraiser
Cons: Would put a Senate seat at risk (though not until 2022)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Pros: Would appeal to the progressive wing of the party, and to suburbanite women, good Oval Office partner
Cons: Double septuagenarian ticket, all-white ticket, Massachusetts is deep blue
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)
Pros: Midwesterner, veteran, will help with Asian voters, inspiring, working mother
Cons: Illinois is pretty much as blue as it gets, Duckworth has some skeletons in the closet
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
Pros: Would help with the swingiest state of 2016, good campaigner, would break LGBTQ glass ceiling
Cons: Some voters (Catholics) might shy away from a ticket with a lesbian on it, all-white ticket
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH)
Pros: Appeals to moderate voters, great fundraiser, broad experience
Cons: New Hampshire is largely in the bag and has 4 EVs, all-white ticket, has some skeletons
Once the Democratic race ends, "guess the VP" will become everyone's favorite parlor game, so expect more items along these lines. (Z)
As you can see from the map above, four more states hold primaries tomorrow, barring a last-second cancellation. If the polls are correct, Joe Biden is going to have an excellent day. Here are the numbers:
|State||Delegates||Polls||Biden Avg.||Biden Del.||Sanders Avg.||Sanders Del.|
We only used polls taken since it became a two-person race. For whatever reason, pollsters are still letting people pick "no choice," so we awarded delegates proportional to the candidates' support. As you can see, it's looking like Biden will extend his lead by about 200 delegates when all is said and done. His projection of 399, added to his current total of 890, would put him at 1,289 with 1,646 delegates outstanding. He would need 702 of those 1,646 (42.6%) to clinch the nod. Sanders, for his part, would exit tomorrow's contests with 864 delegates, and would need 1,127 of the remaining 1,646 (68.4%) to clinch.
There are, of course, two wildcards that the above polls cannot account for. The first is any effect that Sunday's debates might have, though that effect should be slight (see above). The second is any effect COVID-19 might have. Our guess is that it won't matter too much, but that's just a guess, as there's no good current or historical evidence available to answer that question. (Z)
There is a famous speech (at least, to historians) that was given during the Gilded Age by political boss George Washington Plunkitt, entitled "Honest Graft." His thesis was that a politician who is solely interested in lining his pockets is guilty of "dishonest graft." On the other hand, a politician who tries to serve the public good and who lines his pockets at the same time, is practicing "honest graft." He regarded himself, rather self-servingly, as a practitioner of the latter form of pocket-lining, and declared without shame that, "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em."
It would seem that this philosophy has taken hold among the muckety mucks of the Republican Party. The exploits of the President, and some of his dear departed cabinet officers, are well known at this point. The latest entry for the list, according to a new report from ProPublica is...RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, who steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to firms owned by her husband and by other political supporters. Perhaps this helps explain why she tends to side with Donald Trump, who can fire her, and not with Uncle Mitt, who can't.
In any case, all these folks who are enriching themselves at the expense of the voting public have undoubtedly convinced themselves that they're doing nothing wrong, just as Plunkitt did over a century ago. It is worth noting, however, that eventually the citizenry of the Gilded Age got sick of all this, threw some politicians in jail, ran others out of office, and supported rather significant changes to how the political system works. Oh, and some of those folks ended up as the mustachioed villains of 19th century American history, including Boss William Magear Tweed and James G. Blaine ("the continental liar from the state of Maine"). (Z)
It's not a secret that life in the White House tends to create a bubble for the person in the Oval Office, cutting them off from reality as the rest of us know it. And, largely by personal choice, Donald Trump's bubble is extra-thick. Like, "puts the iceberg that sank Titanic to shame" thick. Of course, much of the contents of that bubble are a mystery to those of us who make up the hoi polloi. After all, we don't get to hear what goes on behind closed doors in the White House, or what is said during Sean Hannity's daily phone calls to the President.
The one thing that is accessible to everyone, even the great unwashed, is Twitter. Everyone knows which 47 accounts Trump follows, and that he reads them religiously. And Politico thought it would be interesting to see what those 47 accounts are contributing to the President's bubble on the subject of COVID-19. Here are the five recurrent themes they noted:
- This is China's fault
- Joe Biden would be worse
- Trump is doing a great job
- The media is fueling the panic...
- ...but there's no reason to panic!
It's an interesting piece, worth reading in its entirety. Though it is clear, from comparing this list to his public behavior, that the President's Twitter feed is having no effect on his thinking. Nope, none at all. (Z)
Former Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum was a rising star in the Democratic Party. He is young, black, and charismatic, and comes from a state that is tantalizingly close to being in the Democrats' grip. He barely lost the governor's race to Ron DeSantis in 2018, and a rematch or else a run against Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in 2022 seemed likely.
Not any more, it would appear. This weekend, Gillum was found dead drunk in a Miami hotel room, alongside a man who (apparently) overdosed on crystal meth. The former mayor announced Sunday that he will be entering rehab, and will be withdrawing from public life. It's possible he could return, but the odds are not good, and this incident would forever be an anchor around his neck.
In addition to being a setback for Gillum and his family, it's also a setback for the Democratic Party. As we often point out, you can't beat somebody with nobody, and the Democratic bench in the Sunshine State is pretty thin without Gillum on it. The Party has only one statewide officeholder (Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried), and the Democrats in their house delegation are largely pretty old. That said, in a state that big, and that purple, it's hard to be totally bereft of talent. Perhaps, when 2022 rolls around, the blue team will get a nice surprise in the form of Reps. Val Demings, Stephanie Murphy, or Kathy Castor, or Miramar mayor Wayne Messam. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar15 Sunday Mailbag
Mar14 Friday's COVID-19 Developments
Mar14 Saturday Q&A
Mar13 COVID-19 Havoc Continues
Mar13 Candidate Biden Gives an Audition for Role of President Biden
Mar13 Wyden Wants National Vote-by-Mail
Mar13 U.S. Strikes Iranian-backed Militias
Mar13 Doing the Sanders Math
Mar13 Trump Tries to Cut Sessions Off at the Knees
Mar12 Trump Speech Falls Flat
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