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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Monday, July 20, 2020

COVID Calamity

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well underway.   

Coronavirus presents unprecedented challenges to public policy and the electoral process.

As of Sunday, 3.8 million cases and 140,000 deaths in the United States.

We blew testing. President Trump regularly brags and complains about the number of COVID-19 tests conducted in the U.S., but America hasn't built the infrastructure necessary to process and trace the results.
...
We blew schools. Congress allocated $150 billion for state and local governments as part of the CARES Act, but that was aimed at maintaining status quo services in the face of plummeting tax revenue There was no money earmarked for schools to buy new safety equipment, nor to hire additional teachers who might be needed to staff smaller class sizes and hybrid learning days.
... 
We blew economics. The CARES Act was bold and bipartisan, a massive stimulus to meet the moment. It's running out, without an extension plan not yet in place.
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We blew public health. There's obviously a lot here, but just stick with face masks. Had we all been directed to wear them in March — and done so, even makeshift ones while manufacturing ramped up — you might not be reading this post.
Michael D. Shear, Noah Weiland, Eric Lipton, Maggie Haberman and David E. Sanger at NYT:
Mr. Trump had missed or dismissed mounting signals of the impending crisis in the early months of the year. Now, interviews with more than two dozen officials inside the administration and in the states, and a review of emails and documents, reveal previously unreported details about how the White House put the nation on its current course during a fateful period this spring.
  • Key elements of the administration’s strategy were formulated out of sight in Mr. Meadows’s daily meetings, by aides who for the most part had no experience with public health emergencies and were taking their cues from the president. Officials in the West Wing saw the better-known White House coronavirus task force as dysfunctional, came to view Dr. Fauci as a purveyor of dire warnings but no solutions and blamed officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for mishandling the early stages of the virus.
  • Dr. Birx was more central than publicly known to the judgment inside the West Wing that the virus was on a downward path. Colleagues described her as dedicated to public health and working herself to exhaustion to get the data right, but her model-based assessment nonetheless failed to account for a vital variable: how Mr. Trump’s rush to urge a return to normal would help undercut the social distancing and other measures that were holding down the numbers.
  • The president quickly came to feel trapped by his own reopening guidelines. States needed declining cases to reopen, or at least a declining rate of positive tests. But more testing meant overall cases were destined to go up, undercutting the president’s push to crank up the economy. The result was to intensify Mr. Trump’s remarkable public campaign against testing, a vivid example of how he often waged war with science and his own administration’s experts and stated policies.
  • Mr. Trump’s bizarre public statements, his refusal to wear a mask and his pressure on states to get their economies going again left governors and other state officials scrambling to deal with a leadership vacuum. At one stage, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California was told that if he wanted the federal government to help obtain the swabs needed to test for the virus, he would have to ask Mr. Trump himself — and thank him.
  • Not until early June did White House officials even begin to recognize that their assumptions about the course of the pandemic had proved wrong. Even now there are internal divisions over how far to go in having officials publicly acknowledge the reality of the situation.
 Alexander Burns, Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman at NYT:
President Trump’s failure to contain the coronavirus outbreak and his refusal to promote clear public-health guidelines have left many senior Republicans despairing that he will ever play a constructive role in addressing the crisis, with some concluding they must work around Mr. Trump and ignore or even contradict his pronouncements.

In recent days, some of the most prominent figures in the G.O.P. outside the White House have broken with Mr. Trump over issues like the value of wearing a mask in public and heeding the advice of health experts like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, whom the president and other hard-right figures within the administration have subjected to caustic personal criticism.

They appear to be spurred by several overlapping forces, including deteriorating conditions in their own states, Mr. Trump’s seeming indifference to the problem and the approach of a presidential election in which Mr. Trump is badly lagging his Democratic challenger, Joseph R. Biden Jr., in the polls.

Once-reticent Republican governors are now issuing orders on mask-wearing and business restrictions that run counter to Mr. Trump’s demands. Some of those governors have been holding late-night phone calls among themselves to trade ideas and grievances; they have sought out partners in the administration other than the president, including Vice President Mike Pence, who, despite echoing Mr. Trump in public, is seen by governors as far more attentive to the continuing disaster.

“The president got bored with it,” David Carney, an adviser to the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, said of the pandemic. He noted that Mr. Abbott, a Republican, directs his requests to Mr. Pence, with whom he speaks two to three times a week.