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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Social Distancing Gets Political
      •  COVID Relief Bill v4.0 Dance Has Begun
      •  Trump Really Hates pro-Biden Commercial
      •  About that "Trump Bump"...
      •  Voting and Pandemics Don't Mix Well
      •  Cuomo Moves New York Primary
      •  Meadows Makes it Official

Social Distancing Gets Political

On Monday, several more states—Maryland, Virginia, and Arizona—announced stay-at-home orders for their residents. That brings to 32 the number of states that have issued a stay-at-home directive (or something equivalent, even if they did not use that exact name).

Meanwhile, here is a list of the 18 states whose governors have yet to issue full stay-at-home orders, along with the name and political affiliation of those governors. In those states marked with an asterisk, the governor has issued a partial order of some sort. For example, Georgia governor Brian Kemp (R) has required "medically fragile" people to stay home, while Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R) has required travelers to quarantine for 14 days.

State Governor
Alabama Kay Ivey (R)
Arkansas Asa Hutchinson (R)
Florida* Ron DeSantis
Georgia* Brian Kemp
Iowa Kim Reynolds (R)
Maine Janet Mills (D)
Mississippi Tate Reeves (R)
Missouri Mike Parson (R)
Nebraska Pete Ricketts (R)
North Dakota Doug Burgum (R)
Oklahoma* Kevin Stitt (R)
Pennsylvania* Tom Wolf (D)
South Carolina Henry McMaster (R)
South Dakota Kristi Noem (R)
Tennessee Bill Lee (R)
Texas* Greg Abbott (R)
Utah Gary Herbert (R)
Wyoming Mark Gordon (R)

There are currently 26 Republican governors and 24 Democrats. As you can see from the table above, 16 of the 26 Republicans (61.5%) have declined to issue stay-at-home declarations. By contrast, only 2 of 24 Democrats (8.3%) have declined to do so. And so, whether a stay-at-home directive even exists is a question that has a political tint to it. Meanwhile, the extent to which such orders are followed has also become politicized. Democrats are considerably more likely to see value in stay at home orders, and to abide by them. Republicans are considerably more likely to be skeptical, and to push back against them.

Undoubtedly, some of this is incidental, and is merely a product of demographic and geographic factors that happen to correlate with partisan identification. COVID-19 is more a threat, and stay-at-home more necessary, in New York City than in, say, Cheyenne, WY. However, there is also very clearly a political aspect to this that makes the response unsurprising. Looking at this from the Republican side of things, we have a political faction that has spent the last few decades (if not generations) being told that:

  • Government is the problem, not the solution
  • Consequently, government authority is to be distrusted, and resisted
  • Science is unreliable, and should be treated with skepticism (see change, climate)
  • The media is unreliable, and should be treated with extreme skepticism
  • The Democrats will do anything to gain more power, including taking advantage of (or inventing out of whole cloth) a national crisis

Obviously, you can just flip each of the statements and they become true of most Democrats (e.g., "Government authority is to be trusted, and embraced.") Anyhow, with all of this pre-programming already in place, it doesn't take much from Donald Trump—with the cult-like loyalty that he often inspires—to activate it. And, of course, he has done more than his fair share of pooh-poohing COVID-19, including: (1) downplaying the whole thing, (2) implying that it's some sort of conspiracy, (3) suggesting that things can get back to normal quickly, and (4) parroting right-wing media talking points about how the "cure"—shutting down the economy—is worse than the disease. Given all of this, it's almost remarkable that any Republican governor has issued a stay-at-home order, or that some of Trump's base is actually practicing social distancing.

Of course, viruses are apolitical. They don't check your party affiliation before they infect you. And so, Republican denialism is likely to extract a real, human cost. FiveThirtyEight has a new analysis showing that while there are currently more COVID-19 cases in blue states (no surprise, since they're more populous and they receive more visits from travelers), the disease is growing faster in red states (no surprise, given the disregard for social distancing). Specifically, they observe that 9 of the 10 states with the largest COVID-19 growth rates last week voted for Trump in 2016. The list is led by Texas, which saw a 297% increase in cases over that timeframe. It is also the case that red states are experiencing a higher COVID-19 fatality rate than blue states.

Obviously, the exact impact of politicizing a disease will not be known for many months. However, Liberty University has kindly consented to being our first high-profile case study. As we noted yesterday, Trump-loving Liberty U. president Jerry Falwell Jr. has allowed/encouraged students to return to campus after their spring breaks. Not all of them have done so (our error, yesterday), but a couple thousand of them have. And now, there appear to be at least a dozen new COVID-19 cases on campus. Actually, there were a dozen new cases as of Friday of last week; given that the disease is often asymptomatic for several days, and given that the students have been interacting rather freely with one another and with the local community, the real number is presumably much larger by now. They are innocents, of course. One can only hope that none of them perishes due to a university administrator who obviously cares far more about making political statements than he does about his students' well-being. (Z)

COVID Relief Bill v4.0 Dance Has Begun

The first COVID-19 relief bill, which would have allocated a paltry couple of billion dollars for vaccine research, never made it into law because it was supplanted by the second, $8.5-billion relief bill. Then came the $2.2-trillion relief bill, which became law only two days ago. And already, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is putting out trial balloons for relief bill #4, making very clear what she wants to see included in that (apparently inevitable) legislation.

Overall, the Speaker's vision is that if COVID-19 bill v3.0 was about responding to the immediate emergency, v4.0 will be about recovery. She wants to see investments in the energy grid, improving the water supply, increasing broadband Internet access, and strengthening America's healthcare system. She (and other Democrats) have also spoken of "fixing" problems with the v3.0 bill, and possibly getting rid of some of the provisions from the Republicans' 2017 tax bill.

Needless to say, Republicans, particularly those in the Senate, are less than enthusiastic about Pelosi's proposals and are shocked—shocked, we say!—that a political party would even consider taking advantage of a crisis in order to try and advance its political program. Perhaps they did not read about all the red states that have tried to use COVID-19 to put a stop to abortions, or the one that has taken the opportunity to crack down on transgender rights. In any event, when it comes to Pelosi's machinations, it's a pretty clear case of "hate the game, not the player." Without the enormous motivation of "we have to do something NOW!" it's likely to be an ugly fight once it's time to actually make the next batch of sausage. The Speaker knows that if she gets her ideas out there first, that will have a big impact on the COVID bill v4.0 Overton window. She also knows that her chamber is scheduled for a two-week recess in April, so if she can get something passed before then, it will put a lot of pressure on the Senate. It's not often that someone outmaneuvers Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), but that appears to be what's happening here. (Z)

Trump Really Hates pro-Biden Commercial

There is a new commercial from the pro-Biden super PAC Priorities USA Action that is making Donald Trump's hair stand on end (which must be quite a sight). Here it is:

You really should watch it, since it's only 30 seconds (we've linked to it above, in addition to embedding it, because some browsers choke on the embedding). Anyhow, it juxtaposes the President's "COVID-19 is no big deal" declarations with a graph showing the number of cases. It's extremely effective.

Perhaps the best evidence of that effectiveness (beyond watching the ad itself) is the response from the Trump 2020 campaign. They are so upset that they've sent a cease and desist letter to television stations, ordering them to stop airing the ad. You can read the letter, but the focal point of their complaint is that the spot features some shady editing that makes it seem as if Trump said the virus itself was a hoax, when he actually said that the Democrats' criticism of him was "their new hoax." Given Trump's own history of playing fast and loose with the words of others, this is an...interesting argument for him to make.

Slate's legal analyst, Mark Joseph Stern, argues that Trump's campaign of intimidation might actually work. He points out that the ad is a clear exercise of the First Amendment right to political speech, and that threats to pull over-the-air channels' broadcasting licenses are a nonstarter. However, Stern thinks that the mere threat of a lawsuit may cause broadcasters to self-censor, for fear of having to wage an expensive legal battle.

We agree with much of Stern's analysis, but disagree with his suggestion that the cease-and-desist letter will actually work in any meaningful way. It's true that a small-budget, local concern might fear a lawsuit. But they also might not, knowing that the law is clearly on their side, and worrying about the implications of bowing to censorship of this sort. Further, even if KNAZ in Arizona or WVIT in Connecticut or WTLV in Florida yields to presidential pressure, there is zero chance that a CNN or an MSNBC or any other major broadcast player does so. And so, it's no surprise that Priorities USA Action is having no trouble whatsoever booking additional airings of the ad.

Meanwhile, Trump's efforts to stifle the ad are having a predictable Streisand Effect. The fact that the President hates, hates, hates the ad has caused virtually every outlet not named Fox to run an item on it, and has also caused it to spread like wildfire on social media. It's been viewed more than 15 million times on Twitter alone, and is ubiquitous on Facebook and YouTube as well, including versions with translations into Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, Tagalog, and so forth.

If that is not enough, the President has also telegraphed that he knows very well this is his Achilles' heel. If Priorities USA Action or any other super PACs had doubts about running anti-Trump COVID-19 ads, those doubts are gone now. And really, this ad is somewhat mild in terms of the Trumpian statements and actions it references. One can easily imagine future ads that are much, much harsher. (Z)

About that "Trump Bump"...

We would suggest that the following assertions are not in dispute:

  • Donald Trump is benefiting from a "rally 'round the flag effect" in response to his handling of COVID-19
  • That bump, however, is pretty small, especially compared to other presidential crises
  • The effect is not likely to last

On Monday, we got four data points, courtesy of Harvard-Harris, Fox News, and Rasmussen, supporting the conclusion that there ain't much rallying 'round the flag going on. First:

Poll Trump Approve Trump Disapprove Net Approval
Harvard-Harris 48% 52% -4%
Rasmussen Reports 45% 54% -9%

It is true that Trump is getting some of his best numbers in some polls (for example, the ABC/Washington Post poll from this weekend that had him at 49% approval, 47% disapproval). On the other hand, he's still staying within a pretty narrow range of outcomes, and some polls see no real change in support. The five previous Harvard-Harris polls prior to this one, for example, had him at 47/53, 46/54, 47/53, 47/53, and 46/54. These are mathematically indistinguishable from the latest result, given the margin of error.

Meanwhile (and we've had a few readers point this out via e-mail), Trump's recent Rasmussen numbers are very interesting. Not only is he not getting some of his highest numbers from them right now, he's actually getting some of his lowest. They've done two approval polls since COVID-19 hit; the previous one had him at 48% approve, 50% disapprove (so, -2%). In the five Rasmussen polls before COVID-19, he was at 52/47 (+5%), 49/50 (-1%), 50/49 (+1%), 49/51 (-2%), and 49/50 (-1%). Yesterday's result, with Trump a full 9 points underwater, is well outside the margin of error. Maybe it's just a fluke; that certainly happens. On the other hand, Rasmussen famously oversamples Republicans, so it is at least possible that he is bleeding some of his base, and that the effect is being disguised in other houses' results by moderates/independents rallying 'round the flag. If so, well, rallying 'round the flag effects generally subside, and Trump should be expected to lose much of that support. That means that we might just be seeing the beginnings of his floor of support resetting itself to something lower than the 38-39% it's been thus far. Obviously, much more data is needed before we can say that with any confidence, but it bears keeping an eye upon.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned ABC/Washington Post suggested that a hypothetical Donald Trump-Joe Biden matchup had become a dead heat, with Biden polling at 49% and Trump at 47%. In fact, if those numbers were correct, it would likely mean that Trump had a slight advantage, given the Electoral College. However, Monday's polls suggest it's nowhere near as close as ABC/Washington Post had it:

Pollster Biden Pct. Trump Pct. Net Pct.
Harvard-Harris 55% 45% Biden +10%
Fox News 49% 40% Biden +9%

Overall, there have been nine Trump vs. Biden polls taken this month. All nine gave Biden the lead, with three of them pegging that lead at 2-4 points (i.e., within the margin of error), one putting it at 6 (just outside the margin of error) and five putting it at 9 points or more (way outside the margin of error). Biden's average lead this month has been 7.1%. There is still much COVID-19 crisis to come, and much campaign to come. However, when it comes to the question of whether the epidemic (and his response) might hand Trump the election, the current evidence suggests the answer is "no." (Z)

Voting and Pandemics Don't Mix Well

According to a new survey, two-thirds of voters have said they would be uncomfortable going to crowded polling places during a pandemic. It was previously expected that the 2020 turnout would break all records. It still might, not for the highest ever, but for the lowest ever. States are already struggling to deal with both the remaining primary elections (more below) and the November general election, but it is a huge problem since the voting system is so decentralized, with 50 states + D.C., over 3,100 counties, and a vast number of cities and towns involved, each one with its own laws, traditions, procurement procedures, attitudes, and history.

Voting-rights advocates are pleading for nationwide no-excuse absentee voting. Three states (Washington, Oregon, and Colorado) have gone even further and made all elections mail-in, but in the other 47 states, a patchwork of laws prevails. In theory, the other 47 states could quickly change their laws to match those of one of these states, but don't count on it. The problem is that high turnout generally favors the Democrats and Republican state legislators know this very well.

But even with legal issues aside, there are also other problems. We get into some of the specifics below, but any kind of a huge shift in centuries-old practices (like voting in person on Election Day) is hugely disruptive and is always accompanied by big challenges. Let's start with a little one. Wisconsin didn't move its primary from April 7 because there are also state and local elections on that date. The governor and secretary of state are both Democrats, so they are not trying to suppress turnout. In fact, they are actively encouraging everyone to request an absentee ballot. Fortunately (?), their pleas are working, with the consequence that the state has a shortfall of 1 million envelopes to mail out the ballots. Having the secretary of state logging in at and placing an order for 1 million envelopes with 1-day delivery isn't going to work so well, even if Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette is an Amazon Prime member. Placing the order with an envelope manufacturer might work, but that requires some funding, and Republican state legislators have balked at the idea, saying it is logistically impossible.

Georgia is in a slightly better position, since its primary is May 19. The Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger (R), said that he plans to send out absentee-ballot request forms to all of Georgia's 6.9 million registered voters (assuming he wins the envelope battle with Wisconsin). But maybe he won't do it after State House Speaker David Ralston (R) raised questions about the plan, preferring to move the primary again.

The general election is further away, which helps, but it has other problems. Many election experts say that the knowledge, people, training, and resources to run an all mail-in election simply aren't there. General election turnout is always much larger than primary turnout, meaning the scale of the operation has to be much greater. The validity of a mail-in ballot is generally verified by a signature on the envelope. Who is going to verify 13 million signatures if California goes to an all mail-in system? Do the verifiers have any expertise in recognizing handwriting? If someone's ballot is rejected because the signature verifier didn't like the signature, does that voter have any recourse? Does the state even have a way to get a verified copy of everyone's signatures to the right people at the right moment? What happens if a few of the thousands of signature verifiers are crooked and steal signatures to falsify legal and financial documents after the election? The list goes on. Again, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado do this, but they prepared for mail-in voting for years before it went live.

Also, primary voters are generally well-informed and understand the political process better than the average voter. Many voters don't even know that absentee voting exists. When some of them hear about it for the first time, they may assume it is a scam and not believe it. There will have to be a major education campaign nationwide to tell people about the new system and how it works. And it will have to reach people who don't follow the news at all. For example, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) is already concerned about making sure Navajo Nation voters in Arizona, some of whom live on reservations that don't have street addresses, can get ballots mailed to them and be able to exercise their right to vote.

Finally, we come to the biggie: money. Mailing 150 million or more ballots to registered voters and getting them back and counting (and maybe double counting) them is going to cost money. A lot of it. The COVID-19 law Donald Trump signed last week contains $400 million for election security, but experts say that is nowhere near enough to cover the costs of ballots, envelopes, postage, personnel, training, and voter education, not to mention safeguards against fraud. Wendy Weiser, vice president for democracy at the Brennan Center, said: "Everybody needs to contribute, but Congress really needs to pony up. My view is that they're shortchanging our democracy right now and the American people." (V)

Cuomo Moves New York Primary

This weekend. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) yielded to the inevitable, and pushed his state's primary to June 23. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Ohio have reached a deal to conduct their primary entirely via mail; it will conclude by Apr. 28. Alaska, Wyoming, and Hawaii have done the same, with deadlines set at Apr. 10, Apr. 17, and May 22, respectively. With all of these changes, here is the latest schedule:

Date State(s) Tot. Delegates
April 7 WI 84
April 10 AK 15
April 17 WY 14
April 26 Puerto Rico 51
April 28 OH 136
May 2 KS, Guam 46
May 12 NE, WV 57
May 19 OR, GA 166
May 22 HI 24
June 2 CT, DE, DC, IN, MD, MT, NJ, NM, PA, RI, SD 666
June 6 U.S. Virgin Islands 7
June 20 LA 54
June 23 KY, NY 320

At the moment, Joe Biden is 774 delegates short of clinching the Democratic nomination. There are a total of 593 delegates available prior to June 2. So, even if the former Veep claims 100% of delegates (impossible under the Democrats' system), he cannot land a knockout blow prior to June. As of June 2, which is apparently the devil's primary, we 1,259 delegates will have been awarded. Biden would need 61.4% of those, which is possible, but not probable. At his current rate (capturing about 58% of delegates), he would be on the cusp, with roughly 1,947 delegates. But, as you can see, there aren't too many delegates available thereafter until New York's rescheduled primary. That means that, odds are, Biden cannot mathematically eliminate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) until the very end of the process.

Incidentally in case you are wondering, Sanders would need 64.1% of all remaining delegates in order to secure the nomination. That means performing better in every single remaining state than he did in his best state so far (North Dakota, 53.3%) or in his home state of Vermont (50.8%). In short, it's not doable.

In view of all this, there are four dates where it seems Sanders might plausibly bow out:

  • April 7, if he loses Wisconsin, and concludes he's not viable in the upper Midwest
  • April 28, if he loses Ohio, and concludes he's not viable in any part of the Midwest
  • June 2, at which point he will likely be on the very edge of mathematical elimination
  • June 23, when he will likely be formally eliminated

Thus far, Sanders has given every indication that he's staying in this thing, long-term. It is unlikely he jumps ship in April we think, and, if that is correct, it's hard to see him departing in May, either. That means either he yields after the primary of the beast on June 2, or he says "Well, I've gone on this long, so I might as well stay until the end." At the moment, Team Biden would prefer that Sanders go sooner rather than later. However, if the Senator sticks around until June, it's probably better for the Democrats that he stay until the end, so they can say Sanders had every chance to win the nomination, and every Democrat got to weigh in if they wished, and he was beaten fair and square at the polls. (Z)

Meadows Makes it Official

Former North Carolina representative Mark Meadows was announced as Donald Trump's next chief of staff nearly a month ago. But then Meadows went and got himself exposed to COVID-19, compelling a self-quarantine, and a delay in his move to the White House. That's all over now, and on Monday, Meadows formally resigned his seat in the House, and assumed his new duties.

As a general rule, whenever Trump gets a new chief of staff, that person is able to rein in the President's worst impulses for a while. That may be happening here; whatever his public pronouncements may be, Meadows' self-quarantine makes clear that he takes COVID-19 seriously. And someone clearly persuaded Trump to announce on Sunday that self-distancing would be extended beyond Easter, to Apr. 30. On the other hand, Trump has gotten more and more comfortable ignoring his Chiefs of Staff over time, and Meadows got the job in the first place because he's basically a yes man. So, who knows how much he will actually affect the President's behavior, either during the current crisis, or in the future.

Also unclear is exactly what will happen with Meadows' now-vacant seat. It is pretty obvious to observers that he set things up in order to try to hand off the seat to Lynda Bennett, who is Meadows' friend and is a longtime supporter. It didn't work so well; Bennett got few enough votes in the first round of balloting that she will face a runoff, against socialist-hating real-estate investor Madison Cawthorn. That runoff has just been moved to June 23. The winner of the Bennett-Cawthorn race will advance to face Democrat Morris Davis on Nov. 3. All the experts think that Davis, a political newbie, will lose. However, given that the district (NC-11) has just been redrawn, and that the Republicans could be set for a brutal primary, you never know.

As to the 9 months or so between now and the start of the next Congressional term, the odds are that the seat will remain vacant. Given the closeness of Nov. 3, Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) can call a special election, or not. On one hand, the good people of NC-11 are currently unrepresented in the House. On the other hand, Cooper is undoubtedly not eager to give the Republicans an extra vote for the rest of the year (which is likely what would happen), nor to expend the time and money it would take to fill the seat for just a few months. Hence the likelihood of a punt. (Z)

Note: Today's post took a long time to put together. The "crises" series will resume tomorrow.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar30 Fauci Predicts 100,000 to 200,000 COVID-19 Deaths in America
Mar30 Is Trump Blackmailing Blue-State Governors?
Mar30 Trump Wipes Out the Anti-Corruption Measures in the Corornavirus Relief Bill
Mar30 Poll: Biden and Trump Are in a Statistical Tie
Mar30 Trump Brags about His Ratings
Mar30 Coronavirus May Help the Democrats Indirectly
Mar30 Where's the Libertarian Party?
Mar30 Governors Are Blocking Off Their States
Mar30 Highlights and Lowlights of the $2 Trillion Relief Law
Mar30 Liberty University Has Become a Flashpoint
Mar29 Sunday Mailbag
Mar28 COVID Relief Bill v3.0 Is a Go
Mar28 Saturday Q&A
Mar27 No Relief Bill Yet
Mar27 About Trump's Approval Rating...
Mar27 White House Continues to Resist Invocation of the DPA
Mar27 The 2020 Presidential Election Is a Whole New Ballgame
Mar27 Trump Declares That GOP Convention Will Proceed as Scheduled
Mar27 Trump Administration Indicts Maduro
Mar27 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part III: The Chesapeake Affair (1807)
Mar26 Relief Bill Passes the Senate
Mar26 The $2.2 Trillion Relief Bill Is a Christmas Tree--As Usual
Mar26 Far Right Is Now Targeting Anthony Fauci
Mar26 Biden Says That Trump's Timeline Could Be Catastrophic
Mar26 Twenty States Have Stay-at-Home Orders
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Mar25 Pennsylvania Will Postpone Its Primary
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Mar25 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part II: The Alien and Sedition Acts (1798)
Mar24 Congress Flails Around...
Mar24 ...And So Does Trump
Mar24 Is It Time to Take Away Trump's Platform?
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Mar24 List of Primary Postponements Keeps Growing
Mar24 Sanders Wins Another Primary
Mar24 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part I: The Intolerable Acts (1774)
Mar23 Democrats and Republicans Are Far Apart on the Relief Bill
Mar23 States Are Fighting with One Another over Scarce Medical Supplies
Mar23 Trump's Normal Modus Operandi Won't Work This Time
Mar23 Poll: Majority Approve of Trump's Handling the Crisis
Mar23 Burrgate Could Have Consequences for the Senate
Mar23 What Can Sanders Get from Biden?
Mar23 Bloomberg Dumps Staff