The Senate: Ranking the Top Dozen Best Targets

Blogger’s note: One wonders why the Senate Republicans are: A. digging in on support of Trump and opposing big aid package to those hit hardest by pandemic B. Falling behind in more and more Senate races because of A.

Establishment Republicans relieved by Kansas primary result; rating changes in Georgia and Iowa



— National Republicans breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday night, as Rep. Roger Marshall (R, KS-1) beat 2018 gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach (R) in the Kansas Senate primary. Practically speaking, the Kansas Senate race went from being a potentially major Democratic offensive target to one where the Republicans have a very clear edge.

— Kansas remains Likely Republican in our ratings.

— We rank the top dozen Senate seats in order of their likelihood of flipping. Of the 12, 10 are held by Republicans, underscoring the amount of defense that the GOP will need to play in order to hold their majority.

— We have two Senate rating changes, one in favor of each party.

Table 1: Crystal Ball Senate rating changes

Senator Old Rating New Rating
Georgia Special Leans Republican Likely Republican
Joni Ernst (R-IA) Leans Republican Toss-up

Map 1: Crystal Ball Senate ratings   This map is insane; Larry Sabato, what’s going on.

GOP leadership overjoyed by Kansas primary result

In a cycle where the Republicans’ list of defensive responsibilities in the Senate has seemed to get longer and longer, GOP leaders must be extremely happy to be able to effectively cross one off the list. Rep. Roger Marshall (R, KS-1) defeated 2018 gubernatorial nominee and conservative hardliner Kris Kobach (R) Tuesday evening, making it much easier for Republicans to defend the open seat and frustrating national Democrats, who spent real money in Kansas to try to help Kobach win the primary.

Kobach kicked away the Kansas governorship last cycle, losing a very winnable race to now-Gov. Laura Kelly (D). Establishment Republicans were so petrified of Kobach losing a Senate general election that they first implored Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) to come home and run for the seat and then tried to get President Trump to back Marshall against Kobach, who Trump endorsed in his very narrow 2018 gubernatorial primary victory. As it was, Trump stayed out, but Marshall won anyway.

Democrats have a respectable nominee, party-switching state Sen. Barbara Bollier (D), but Marshall fits the traditional Kansas GOP mold much better than Kobach. This is the second time Marshall has beaten a further-right Republican in a contentious primary; he also knocked off then-Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R, KS-1) in 2016.

Despite signs of Democratic growth in the Kansas City suburbs and a few other places in the state, Kansas remains a Republican state: The president carried it by about 20 points in 2016. Even if Trump significantly underperforms in the state, he is still very likely to carry it, meaning that Bollier will need to attract at least some crossover support from Trump voters to win. That would have been an easier task against Kobach than Marshall. Kansas also has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932, despite electing many Democratic governors in that same timeframe: A state’s baseline partisanship is often easier to overcome in state races as opposed to federal ones.

We’re keeping the Kansas Senate race as Likely Republican, matching our presidential rating there, but Marshall should be fine.

This is a good development for Senate Republicans, although they still have a lot of defense to play in other states. Speaking of…

The big picture

As we examine the race for the Senate majority, we thought it’d be worthwhile to rank the dozen seats we see as the most competitive from most to least likely to change hands. As we see it right now, 10 of the 12 most vulnerable seats are held by Republicans, even as Democrats are defending the seat likeliest to flip, Alabama.

1. Alabama (D)
2. Colorado (R)
3. Arizona (R)
4. Maine (R)
5. North Carolina (R)
6. Iowa (R)
7. Montana (R)
8. Georgia (Regular) (R)
9. Michigan (D)
10. Texas (R)
11. Georgia (Special) (R)
12. Alaska (R)

Before we explain the rankings (and a couple of rating changes), we wanted to explain how presidential partisanship plays into them. While presidential and Senate results will differ, presidential and Senate outcomes have come further into alignment in recent years.

Table 2 shows the same ranking of Senate seats in terms of likelihood of flipping, but we also added three additional columns.

Table 2: Presidential scenarios in top 12 Senate races

The first is the actual 2016 presidential margin by state, when Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by two points. The second is a hypothetical scenario in which Joe Biden would win by five points nationally, or three points better than Clinton, and the third is a hypothetical where Biden would win by 10 points nationally, or eight points better than Clinton. A positive number is a Democratic presidential victory in a given state; a negative number indicates a Republican win.

We adjusted the state-level presidential margins to match the hypothetical national change from 2016; this would represent what political scientists might call a “uniform swing,” in which these states’ presidential margins change the same way the national margin does. Reality won’t be so neat and tidy, but this does give us a presidential baseline as we go through our Senate list.

We are not going to say that the situation of Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) is hopeless, but he has trailed even in Democratic internal polls — when a candidate is behind in even his own party’s polls, he is behind, and likely by more than the party polls show (as nonpartisan surveys have shown). The presidential scenarios show that, even in the event of a Biden national blowout, Jones will need an immense amount of crossover voting to win.

Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Martha McSally (R-AZ) have generally been behind in their races; there is a little more uncertainty with Gardner given that former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) suffered through a very bad string of news coverage in advance of his primary a little over a month ago, but we haven’t seen much indication that Gardner has changed the race in a meaningful way. McSally has been behind, and generally not just by a few points, in Arizona, a more frequently polled state. The difference between the two races is the presidential: It’s not hard to imagine Trump winning Arizona, a purple-trending red state, but it is hard to imagine Trump winning Colorado, a blue-trending purple state. So Gardner will need to attract more crossover support than McSally — he likely will win some, but we’d be surprised if he gets enough. Meanwhile, polls show McSally running behind Trump when she may need to run ahead of him.

The presidential factor is also the reason why we see Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) as slightly more vulnerable than Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC): Joe Biden seems very likely to carry Maine, and by a bigger margin than 2016, while North Carolina (like Arizona) remains a presidential Toss-up. Again, Collins (like Gardner) probably will get crossover support, but perhaps not enough. Tillis, just like McSally, polls behind Trump.

Beyond Maine and North Carolina, Iowa is now in the Toss-up column. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), like McSally and Tillis, appears to be doing a little worse than Trump in her state. She has a little more wiggle room than the other two — note that Trump still carries Iowa even in this hypothetical scenario where Biden is winning nationally by 10 — but both parties are acting (and spending) like Iowa is a Toss-up.

We continue to rate Montana and Georgia’s regular Senate election as Leans Republican even though good cases can be made that both should be Toss-ups. We have different reasoning for keeping both where they’ve been in our ratings.

In the case of Montana, presidential partisanship is key: Trump seems very likely to carry the state again, albeit by a reduced margin, and it’s historically difficult to dislodge a sitting senator whose party is winning the state concurrently in the presidential race. Additionally, the trajectory of the race may actually be going the way of incumbent Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT); a couple of months ago, we thought Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) was leading Daines. Now, based on what we’ve heard and seen, we are not so sure, and Daines may be ahead, slightly.

In Georgia, Sen. David Perdue (R) is locked in a close race with former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff (D), although he generally polls a little bit better than Trump, and he may be able to attract a little bit of crucial crossover support from Trump-skeptical Metro Atlanta suburbanites who aren’t quite ready to abandon the GOP down the ballot. Perdue also has a backstop in his race: a general election runoff if no one gets over 50%. As we explained in a deep dive on Georgia, the runoff scenario could help Republicans in terms of turnout. So Ossoff may need to get over 50% in the November general election to practically be able to win the seat.

The Republicans’ other offensive target on this list, Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), is honestly closer to being rated Likely Democratic than Toss-up. Both Peters and Biden have consistently posted leads in the state, and Republican pessimism about Michigan at the presidential level seems to be growing, which has to bleed down to the Senate level. John James (R), who is taking a second run at the Senate after losing to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in 2018, has been outraising Peters, but only by relatively small margins.

Texas is kind of like the regular Senate race in Georgia, except that former congressional candidate MJ Hegar (D) doesn’t have the resources that Ossoff does and Texas may vote overall to the right of Georgia for president (as it did in 2016 and has in every presidential election since 1988).

Speaking of Georgia, we are moving the special Georgia Senate race from Leans Republican to Likely Republican for several reasons. First of all, we already mentioned the possibility of a runoff in the other Georgia seat, and that Democrats face certain hardships in Georgia runoffs. A runoff is virtually guaranteed in the special race because it is an all-party primary and there are many candidates on both sides. Additionally, it is not even clear that the Democrats will advance a candidate to the runoff: appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and her top GOP challenger, Rep. Doug Collins (R, GA-9), often finish atop polls, while the Rev. Raphael Warnock (D), the choice of national Democrats, sometimes lags behind Matt Lieberman (D), the son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT), with former U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver (D) also garnering some support. So Democrats have work to do to just get into the runoff, and if they get there, they have to deal with the same turnout problems that have beguiled them in past runoffs. So the Republicans have a few important backstops in this race.

Finally, there are a few Likely Republican seats that one could put in the final slot. We decided to go with Alaska, where Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) is running for a second term against doctor Al Gross, an independent/Democrat. Others might put Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in this spot, but despite some close polls, it is just really hard for a Democrat to get a high enough share of the vote to win in such a racially polarized state (Jones has a similar problem in another racially divided Deep South state, Alabama). Alaska’s electorate, though also Republican-leaning, is more fluid, and we see it as a more plausible — though still unlikely — Democratic upset target.


Overall, the battle for the Senate is close, although we would probably rather be the Democrats than the Republicans at the moment. The reason is basically that, of the three decisive Toss-ups in our ratings, we would probably pick the Democrats in at least two of them right now: both Maine and North Carolina are closer to Leans Democratic than Leans Republican. If Democrats win those, as well as Arizona and Colorado (while losing Alabama), they would forge a 50-50 tie, with what they hope is a Democratic vice president breaking ties.

Beyond these top races, the Democrats also have better second-tier targets than the Republicans: namely, the regular race in Georgia as well as Montana. We were prepared to add Kansas to that list, too, but Roger Marshall seems to have spared the GOP that additional headache.

Trump comes face to face with one of his greatest fears

A supporter sits alone in the top sections of seating as Vice President Pence speaks before President Trump arrives for a "Make America Great Again!" rally in Tulsa.
A supporter sits alone in the top sections of seating as Vice President Pence speaks before President Trump arrives for a “Make America Great Again!” rally in Tulsa. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/TWP)
July 10, 2020 at 10:45 a.m. EDT
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The founding falsehood that set the tone for the most mendacious presidency in U.S. history — the original Big Lie — was all about crowd size. In January 2017, President Trump and his spokesperson inflated his inaugural audience with a series of grotesque falsehoods. Trump even attacked the media for telling the truth about his paltry inaugural turnout.

So it’s fitting that as Trump’s first term — and perhaps his presidency — winds down, he is confronting the very same fear that produced that original series of foundational lies: The fear that the crowds just aren’t showing up the way they’re supposed to.

Two new reports — one from NBC News, and one from the Associated Press — shed light on an internal debate now underway among Trump advisers about how to manage both this new reality and Trump’s own emotional struggle with it.


The picture that emerges is one in which they are working to balance Trump’s insatiable need to feed off adoring crowds against the reality that people might be disinclined to brave the plague conditions that he did so much to unleash on the country. The imperatives of satiating Trump’s megalomania are bumping up against the consequences of his depravity and incompetence.

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After half-empty Tulsa rally, Trump boasts his Fox News ratings
President Trump on June 23 claimed that people watched his Tulsa campaign rally from home on June 20, creating the “highest ratings in the history of Fox News.” (The Washington Post)

Trump is set to hold a rally in New Hampshire — originally scheduled for this weekend, it has now been postponed — and as NBC reports, his advisers are desperate to avoid a repeat of the lackluster turnout at his Oklahoma gathering. As one puts it: “We can’t have a repeat of Tulsa.”

What’s changed is that Trump now realizes why the Tulsa fiasco happened: A White House official tells NBC that Trump “sees now” that supporters may not turn out at rallies due to coronavirus fears.

It’s galling that Trump only sees this now, since experts loudly warned against rallies, and one of his paramount goals was to create the illusion of normalcy, so everyone would get back to work and the economy would roar back to greatness on Trump’s reelection schedule.

So the New Hampshire rally will be held outdoors, and masks will be strongly encouraged, though not mandated. Meanwhile, Trump continues urging a recklessly rapid reopening while refusing to set a mask-wearing example himself.

Yet Trump’s advisers also know that future rallies create the risk of more lackluster appearances. But they’re going to brave that risk, and the Associated Press reports on why:

Despite the risks, the Trump campaign believes it needs to return to the road, both to animate the president, who draws energy from his crowds, and to inject life into a campaign that is facing a strong challenge from Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

The problem is that at a time when coronavirus cases are spiking to record levels in many states and nationally, Trump nonetheless wants and needs big crowds.

Trump himself unwittingly laid bare the dynamic in an interview with Sean Hannity on Thursday night.

“We’re doing very well in the polls,” Trump declared, when in fact his approval numbers are 15 points underwater and he’s trailing Biden nationally by 10 points. Both metrics have gotten worse over the last few weeks, but Trump insisted: “We’re rapidly rising.”

“There’s great spirit,” Trump continued. “Spirit like nobody’s ever seen before, actually. And there’s no spirit for Joe.”

As the constant lying about polls demonstrates, for Trump the impression that he’s losing — that his energy and candidacy are flagging, that the crowds aren’t showing up — is itself deadly. What must be relentlessly manufactured is the illusion that he remains enormously popular and that Trump’s America is energized and primed and ready to win again.

Trump has obsessed over his crowd sizes throughout his presidency. Indeed, the ability to create imagery like this is why he held rallies in off-years like 2019 in the first place:

This obsession goes back many years. In his biography of Trump, journalist Timothy O’Brien recounts an exchange between Trump and producer Lorne Michaels, in which Trump acknowledges his NBC project might not attract a big audience forever:

“You know, Lorne, it won’t always be this way,” Donald mused. “Someday NBC will call me and say, ‘Donald, the ratings are no good and we are going to have to cancel.’”
“No, Donald, there is only one difference,” Michaels replied. “They won’t even call.”

That exchange remained with Trump for years, O’Brien reports.

“Trump’s biggest existential fear is that the spotlight will be turned off, the seats will be empty, and his phone will stop ringing,” O’Brien told me. “If the ratings drop, he drops.”

“There isn’t any part of his life that hasn’t been touched by this,” O’Brien continued. “His obsession with newspaper and TV coverage in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s; how many people show up at his rallies; how he’s performing in the polls. It’s always there.”

Trump has never had majority support

An enduring fact about the Trump presidency is that he has never once had a majority of this country behind him. He lost the popular vote in 2016 and his approval has never cracked 50 percent.

Trump sometimes deals with this by declaring himself enormously popular — among carefully tailored groups. He says he won a majority of women; he won only a majority of white women. He constantly claims unspecified polls show he has 96 percent approval — among Republicans.

At other times he simply invents a “SILENT MAJORITY” that remains behind him. At still others, he uses absurdly tortured imagery to portray that silent majority:

Now Trump is facing the prospect of losing even his ability to create and experience the illusion that an enormous portion of the country remains enthusiastically behind him. And it’s all because he can’t conjure up the power to seduce people into believing the lethal virus he has done so little to curb doesn’t really exist.

It must be a special kind of hell for him.

Watch Opinions videos:

Opinion | Trump vs. the coronavirus

Even as the number of U.S. coronavirus cases passes 3 million, President Trump has repeatedly played down covid-19’s toll on the country. (Video: Joy Sharon Yi, Danielle Kunitz/Photo: Jonathan Newton / Washington Post/The Washington Post)

Read more:

US anti-abortion groups received millions in federal Covid-19 aid

Anti-abortion advocates hold signs as they stand in front of the US supreme court while participating in the 47th annual March For Life in Washington.
Anti-abortion advocates hold signs as they stand in front of the US supreme court while participating in the 47th annual March For Life in Washington. Photograph: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Christian anti-abortion lobbying organizations received millions in taxpayer-backed forgivable loans from the US government’s coronavirus aid program, even as lawmakers demanded the nation’s largest abortion provider return federal loans.

Pro-reproductive rights groups have also received funding from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Planned Parenthood, America’s largest network of abortion and sexual health clinics, received $80m in PPP loans.

However, the government agency that oversees the program later tried to claw back loans from Planned Parenthood after Republican criticism, whereas Christian conservative groups were not subject to such efforts.

“What we’re seeing with this is a lightyear leap into direct government financing of major Christian right political entities on a scale we’ve never seen before,” said Frederick Clarkson, a senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, an expert on the American religious right.

The discrepancy in how Planned Parenthood and Christian anti-abortion groups were treated after they received coronavirus stimulus money, “is absolutely a double standard”, Clarkson said. “That’s an egregious violation of ethical norms.”

A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the vice-president of government relations, Jacqueline Ayers, called the clawback, “a clear political attack on Planned Parenthood health centers and access to reproductive healthcare”.

Among the Christian right organizations that received Cares Act funding were the American Family Association (AFA), an influential conservative Christian group which opposes abortion and LGBTQ+ rights.

The AFA has been described as a hate group by tracking experts at the Southern Poverty Law Center. In the past, AFA has described homosexuality as, “a poor and dangerous choice” and blamed the Holocaust on gay people.

The American Center for Law & Justice, an anti-abortion group led by Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow, also received funding.

Notably, the groups received PPP loans in early April, about a week before the loan program ran out of money, and at a time when many large companies were under intense scrutiny to return loans.

The US treasury department released the names of companies that received more than $150,000 in funding on Monday. The disclosure represents less than 15% of all the loans made under the PPP, according to a Washington Post database. Nearly 11,000 religious organizations received at least $3bn in funding from the Paycheck Protection Program.

The AFA, which is based in Tupelo, Mississippi, received between $1-2m, and said it protected 124 jobs with the money. Its non-profit mission statement is, “to promote the biblical ethic of decency in society”. A recent AFA blogpost described abortion as, “an evil running rampant in the United States for a long time”.

The AFA also invests a huge amount of money in lobbying every year. Between 2014-2017 the group spent more than $874,000 trying to change public opinion, according to its non-profit disclosures.

One of the most important efforts housed by the AFA, according to Clarkson, is the American Renewal Project, an electoral project of the Republican campaign strategist David Lane. Lane believes the United States needs to “re-establish a Christian culture”, and called for a religious war in a 2013 essay headlined “Wage war to restore a Christian nation”.

American Center for Law & Justice also works to end abortion, and also received between $1-2m in PPP loans. In the past, the ACLJ has hired telemarketers to raise money off the back of the Trump administration’s investigations of Planned Parenthood, saying in a script that abortion providers had been put “on their heels”, and before citing Sekulow in their pitch.

“Can I let Jay know you’re standing with him with a gift?” telemarketers asked potential donors. More recently, the ACLJ promised to sue California for restricting singing inside churches, because it is believed to spread Covid-19.

Pay to the ACLJ’s staff of attorneys could amount for a large proportion of their PPP loan. The group’s senior litigator alone earns more than $514,000 a year. He is one of a dozen key employees, most of whom earn six-figure salaries.

Neither the AFA nor the ACLJ responded to the Guardian’s request for comment.

A woman’s right to choose …

… is under serious threat for the first time in generations. On the heels of an unprecedented wave of anti-abortion laws passed last year, the Supreme Court will consider a case this year that could dramatically curtail reproductive freedom. Meanwhile, the current administration continues to fill federal courts with judges likely to undermine Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision securing the right to abortion.

The Guardian views reproductive freedom as fundamental to women’s health and human rights, and is committed to reporting rigorously on behalf of the women in America who need access to reliable, high quality healthcare.

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Bolton: I don’t think uninformed Trump is ‘fit for office’

Remember when we thought Bolton was as bad as it gets? Now he’s our hero. Sorta.


Former national security adviser John Bolton‘s forthcoming book portrays President Trump as a “stunningly uninformed” officeholder who routinely conflated different people, veered off on unrelated tangents during critical meetings and had little concept of the world with which he dealt.
In the book, “The Room Where It Happened,” Bolton describes his year and a half as Trump’s third chief national security aide as a roller-coaster effort to keep an erratic president on topic in spite of a lack of an overarching theory of national security or foreign policy that guided the first-time politician.
“He second-guessed people’s motives, saw conspiracies behind rocks, and remained stunningly uninformed on how to run the White House, let alone the huge federal government,” Bolton writes.
Trump routinely complained about favored irritants, from the amount of money South Korea paid the United States for American troop presence on the Korean Peninsula to his first tense meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He often urged aides to pull the United States completely out of Africa, a continent he disparaged regularly, Bolton writes.
The Hill obtained a copy of Bolton’s book on Wednesday, a week before its scheduled publication. The Justice Department has sought an emergency order to block its publication, though multiple media outlets have already obtained copies of the book.
Bolton also chronicles a long pattern of Trump’s ignorance of basic geography and the politics of the nations with which the United States has close relationships.
Trump constantly confused former Afghan President Hamid Karzai with his successor, Ashraf Ghani. In the midst of sensitive negotiations with the Taliban and the Afghan government, Trump told advisers he believed Ghani was corrupt and that he owned a mansion in Dubai; Karzai was widely seen by American officials as corrupt, not Ghani. 
Bolton writes that American officials knew “from actual research” that Ghani did not own the house in Dubai.
“If only Trump could keep straight that incumbent President Ghani was not former President Karzai, we would have spared ourselves a lot of trouble,” Bolton writes.
Bolton says Trump also displayed a startling lack of knowledge of Nordic countries. As the Trump administration and the Russian government debated where to stage the first formal sit-down between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the United States government pushed for a meeting in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, while the Russians wanted a summit in Vienna.
“Isn’t Finland kind of a satellite of Russia?” Trump asked, according to Bolton’s notes. Bolton says later that same day Trump asked his then-chief of staff, John Kelly, whether Finland was a part of Russia. 
Trump seemed to demure to Putin’s wishes. “Whatever they [the Russians] want. Tell them we’ll do whatever they want,” Trump reportedly said.
The meeting went ahead in Helsinki.
At a subsequent meeting with British officials, Trump appeared unaware that the United States’s closest ally had nuclear weapons. Sir Mark Sedwill, Bolton’s counterpart as Prime Minister Theresa May‘s national security adviser, described a chemical attack on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia as an attack on a nuclear power.
“Trump asked, ‘Oh, are you a nuclear power?’ which I knew was not intended as a joke,” Bolton writes.
Trump also said he did not understand why the United States still had a significant troop presence on the Korean peninsula, almost 70 years after fighting the Korean War. Bolton says he brought up the post-war history, in the context of the Cold War, but failed to break through.
“Just for the record, I did discuss with Trump several times the history of the ‘temporary’ 1945 division of the Korean, the rise of Kim Il Sung, the Korean War and its Cold War significance – you know, that old stuff – but obviously I made no impact,” Bolton writes. “We endured this cycle repeatedly, always with the same outcome.”
At a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, Trump asked his delegation why the American government was sanctioning a nation 7,000 miles from U.S. territory.
“Because they are building nuclear weapons and missiles that can kill Americans,” Bolton says he responded.
“Another day at the office,” Bolton writes.
The president paid little attention to intelligence briefings, according to Bolton. Instead, he offered his own monologues that would overwhelm the briefers in charge.
“I didn’t think these briefings were terribly useful, and neither did the intelligence community, since much of the time was spent listening to Trump, rather than Trump listening to the briefers. I made several tries to improve the transmission of intelligence to Trump but failed repeatedly,” Bolton writes.
“Trump generally only had two intelligence briefings per week, and in most of those, he spoke at greater length than the briefers, often on matters completely unrelated to the subjects at hand,” he writes later.
In a 2018 meeting with Japanese officials, ostensibly about trade policy and North Korea, Trump was told the United States had no greater ally in the western Pacific than Japan. Trump brought up the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The meeting broke up shortly after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived.
Updated: 11:27 p.m.
Steve Clemons, Morgan Chalfant, Brett Samuels and Laura Kelly contributed to this report.

Trump’s most loyal media ally promised a pro-Trump poll. It didn’t deliver — and then pulled its story.

June 11, 2020 at 6:42 p.m. EDT

CNN’s release of a poll this week showing President Trump trailing former vice president Joe Biden by 14 points nationally clearly rattled the president and his reelection campaign. In short order, Trump tweeted out a memo making various allegations about how and why CNN conducted the poll, each assertion ludicrous and easily debunked. On Wednesday, the campaign escalated its efforts to portray CNN’s poll as unfair, demanding that CNN retract the poll and issue an apology.

CNN’s attorneys, with complete and understandable justification, declined to do so.

The network is one of Trump’s most frequent targets for criticism. He has repeatedly bashed CNN’s reporting and on-air talent, disparaging the network as hopelessly biased against him. Trump’s taste in television coverage runs more along the lines of Fox News’s Sean Hannity, a fervent supporter of the president, and, in recent months, One America News.

The Fix’s Eugene Scott breaks down how presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has reacted to the death of George Floyd. (JM Rieger, Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

OAN is a small network, clearly seeking to make its name in part by promising endlessly obsequious coverage of the president. The network has often explicitly asked Trump to watch it instead of Fox, as chief executive Robert Herring did Wednesday.

Trump does watch. It was an OAN report about the protester in Buffalo who was injured by police that prompted Trump to speculate wildly that the elderly man who suffered a head injury had faked his fall in service to a murky network of left-wing anarchists.

Herring defended that report Thursday, writing on Twitter that his network had “put out our facts” on the incident, while the mainstream media hadn’t done so. There is no evidence for the claims made in the report, though OAN reporter Kristian Rouz did certainly offer up some allegations.

That tweet was followed up with another attempt to goad the mainstream media.

Robert Herring@RobHerring

Here’s a message for the mainstream media: We have put out our facts on the Buffalo protestor that you claim are wrong. Where is your evidence? @OANN

We did see CNN’s @donlemon interview a lady that knew him. Do you want to stand behind her?

Robert Herring@RobHerring

Just to add some fuel to the fire, did you see our poll on Florida? @OANN

200 people are talking about this

Herring had on Wednesday pledged an upcoming poll, as the Trump campaign’s feud with CNN over its national poll was heating up. He promised that OAN would be “releasing a poll concerning the 2020 presidential race” that “looks as though it will be in favor of” the president.

Early Thursday afternoon, the poll came out. Conducted by Gravis Marketing, a pollster that earns a C in FiveThirtyEight’s ranking of pollsters, it was focused solely on Florida.

It had Trump and Biden tied in the must-win state for Trump, a state Trump won narrowly four years ago.

OAN produced a video segment on the poll, again featuring Rouz, which appeared on its website. Soon after it was published, though, the report was pulled. A tweet from Herring that apparently announced the results was also deleted.

Image without a caption

Both the page and the video report were captured, however. The image above comes from Google’s cache; the report can be seen on YouTube thanks to writer Arieh Kovler.

The poll itself and Rouz’s report on the poll immediately raise red flags in a variety of ways.

For example, it shows a 50-50 tie between Biden and Trump. Polls don’t normally result in perfect 50-50 ties, unless respondents are forced to choose between the two candidates. That appears to be what happened in this case, as Kovler notes; at another point in Rouz’s report, he reveals that Trump leads Biden 53 percent to 47 percent among undecided voters.

What does that mean? It means that Biden necessarily leads among voters who have made up their minds. Imagine that half of voters say they’re undecided. To get a 50-50 result overall, Biden would need to lead Trump 53 to 47 among decided voters if Trump led by the same margin among undecideds.

Rouz didn’t mention that detail.

Lots of bad news for Trump is glossed over in the same way. Trump is presented as having an edge over Biden on handling the economy. But this point, one central to Trump’s reelection bid, downplays that Trump is under 50 percent among respondents and leads Biden by only four points, basically a tie.

Many of the other data points that Rouz highlights are based on leading questions (“Is activating the national guard an effective way to prevent further rioting?”) or are presented by Rouz in ludicrously loaded language.

At one point, he shows the results of a question about where blame lies for violence that emerged following protests throughout the country.

“The OAN/Gravis poll reveals 43 percent of Floridians blame far-left protesters for the latest violence and looting,” he said, “while only 36 percent blame the police.”

First, Rouz’s presentation of the question doesn’t match what’s shown on the screen, nor did the response options. (The question asked only about “protesters,” not “far-left protesters.”) Second, and more important, a seven-point difference is hardly anything definitive, given that the difference is probably not statistically significant, depending on the margin of error of the poll.

Or it’s like when Rouz claimed that “at least 50 percent of Floridians would vote to reelect their president if the election were held this week” — an impressive use of “at least” and an equally impressive effort to ignore that the same thing could be said about Biden. And Rouz’s framing works only if you assume those undecided voters actually vote for Trump at the margin they indicated they would.

The OAN report tries to suggest that this result is somehow a repudiation of CNN’s poll. It isn’t, for a variety of reasons. The most obvious, of course, is that the CNN poll was national and the OAN poll conducted only in Florida. Florida polling from other outlets shows Biden with a narrow lead in the state of about three points on average.

Meaning that if, say, a third of respondents in OAN’s poll said they were undecided, Biden could be leading Trump 52 to 48 among voters who have made up their minds. That puts the OAN/Gravis poll very much in line with other polling in the state.

That Rouz is so sloppy and presents the findings so dishonestly should not be a surprise. He has another report that was published by OAN on Thursday. It is a buffet of allegations that would resonate with Trump: The “deep state” is working with Democrats to produce polls making Republican voters demoralized. It’s lifting up one of the dumber points of contention Trump’s team raised in its criticism of the CNN poll but somehow manages to do so in an even more ridiculous way.

This entire polling effort by OAN is a remarkable, if unintentional, window into how the network works. Its chief executive trumpets a poll that he promises is likely to show Trump doing well. His on-air reporter gins up a thoroughly misleading presentation of results that are far from great for the president. For some reason — but probably exactly that reason — the story and the report get deep-sixed.

After all, Trump’s not going to want to watch that. We don’t want him switching over to Fox, now, do we?

Headshot of Philip Bump

Philip Bump is a correspondent for The Washington Post based in New York. Before joining The Post in 2014, he led politics coverage for the Atlantic Wire.Follow



To those of you who would come at me with, “why didn’t she do anything to stop this,” Consider:

To those of you who would come at me with, “why didn’t she do anything to stop this,” Consider:

1) She wouldn’t be alive if she fought back.
2) NOBODY knows how they would react under profound stress and trauma, so conjecture all you want, but that’s all you’re doing.

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Image may contain: 2 people, text that says 'PEACE & HEALING FOR DARNELLA Kind strangers are sending love to the traumatized teen who filmed George Floyd's final moments. 2 gofundme'

Joe Biden must be doing something right

Former vice president Joe Biden at a campaign rally in Kansas City, Mo., on March 7. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
May 21, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. EDT

We are more than five months from the presidential election, so polls at this stage are not predictive. But they do tell us what is happening currently, and therein is a lesson for Democrats.

Let’s face it: Democrats were spooked (rightfully) by 2016, so they are always one step from hysteria, sure that President Trump will once more defy the polls and the odds. Insofar as they do not become complacent, let alone cocky, that can be a helpful mind-set. Always campaign as though you’re a few points down, likely said some political type whose candidate probably blew a lead.

That said, Democratic commentators should take a deep breath and stop imagining everything the Biden campaign is doing is wrong. More TV! More attacks! If anyone should be panicking (and they might be), it should be the Trump team.


The latest Quinnipiac poll may be an outlier, but it is also at least some evidence that the presumptive Democratic nominee has the upper hand. (Biden does lead in the RealClearPolitics averages nationally by 5.6 points.) Simply put, Biden is smashing Trump across the board, with a few notable exceptions. “Former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Trump 50-39 percent in a head-to-head matchup in the election for president. . . . That’s up from the 49-41 percent lead Biden held in an [April 8] national poll, but the change is within the margin of error.” He leads among independents by 11 percentage points, among women by nearly 30 points, among white women by 11 points (Trump narrowly won this group in 2016), and among older voters by 10 points (an oddity for a Democrat). Trump’s net favorable is minus-15 and his net approval is minus-11.

Opinion | Vice President Biden, you need black women voters. This is how to win us.
Black women are the Democrats’ most reliable voting bloc. Here’s how seven prominent black female activists and media figures say Joe Biden can win them over. (Kate Woodsome, Joy Sharon Yi/The Washington Post)

Biden dominates in all sorts of ways: He is regarded as far more honest (47 percent say he’s honest) than Trump (34 percent) and is a better leader (plus-11 vs. minus-18). On the covid-19 pandemic, “By a sixteen-point margin, 55-39 percent, voters say they think Biden would do a better job than President Trump handling the response to the coronavirus. . . . Two-thirds of voters, 67 percent, say that President Trump should wear a face mask when he is out in public, while 27 percent say he should not.” Large percentages of voters are not willing to risk their health to boost the economy. “Three-quarters of voters (75 percent) say the country should reopen slowly, even if it makes the economy worse, while 21 percent say the country should reopen quickly, even if it makes the spread of the coronavirus worse.” Huge majorities think it is currently unsafe to fly or go to a restaurant.

The economy used to be a lifeline for Trump. Now, it is a dark cloud. “About 4 in 10 voters (42 percent) say they are very concerned that the economy will fall into a depression, 39 percent say they are somewhat concerned, 11 percent say they are not so concerned, and 8 percent say they are not concerned at all. Roughly three-quarters of voters, 74 percent, rate the economy as not so good or poor.”

Trump certainly has his base of support among men, non-college-educated whites and white men. But that seems like all he has. There are too many voters, no matter how the GOP strains to reduce turnout, to win with this narrow sliver of the vote. By contrast, Biden is in an enviable position (after spending minimal amounts of money) both nationally and electorally (as states such as Arizona become true swing states). He is everything Trump is not — mature, kind, rooted in reality. Democrats shouldn’t get cocky, but they really need to take a breath. Trumpers, on the other hand, have every reason to be hysterical.

Read more:

For Spy Agencies, Briefing Trump Is a Test of Holding His Attention: NY TIMES

!!!There’s more to this than just briefings for this soon to be outgoing president. There is the fact that this train-wreck of an administration has been responsible for non-war-time loss of life in this country via the VIRUS and mishandling the response. Maker no mistake: in spite of the daily comedy of his tweets, pronouncements, actions, This President Has Blood on his hands. No hyperbole here.

Although you do not need this blog for the particulars, we will explore them  in future installments, nor at least aspects of them. The editor of this blog, Me, has a number of Trump supporters among his friends. He wants to keep all of them, but wishes to be clear that this is yet another call for him to be held accountable. !!!



President Trump’s intelligence briefings have gotten renewed attention since he blamed them for failing to sound the alarm early on about the coronavirus.

President Trump has insisted that the intelligence agencies gave him inadequate warning about the threat of the coronavirus.
Credit…Samuel Corum for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump has blamed many others for his administration’s flawed response to the coronavirus: Chinagovernorsthe Obama administrationthe World Health Organization. In recent weeks, he has also faulted the information he received from an obscure analyst who delivers his intelligence briefings.

Mr. Trump has insisted that the intelligence agencies gave him inadequate warnings about the threat of the virus, describing it as “not a big deal.” Intelligence officials have publicly backed him, acknowledging that Beth Sanner, the analyst who regularly briefs the president, underplayed the dangers when she first mentioned the virus to him on Jan. 23.

But in blaming Ms. Sanner, a C.I.A. analyst with three decades of experience, Mr. Trump ignored a host of warnings he received around that time from higher-ranking officials, epidemiologists, scientists, biodefense officials, other national security aides and the news media about the virus’s growing threat. Mr. Trump’s own health secretary had alerted him five days earlier to the potential seriousness of the virus.

By the time of the Jan. 23 intelligence briefing, many government officials were already alarmed by the signs of a crisis in China, where the virus first broke out, and of a world on the brink of disaster. Within days, other national security warnings prompted the Trump administration to restrict travel from China. But the United States lost its chance to more effectively mitigate the coronavirus in the following weeks when Mr. Trump balked at further measures that might have slowed its spread.


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Mr. Trump has not mentioned Ms. Sanner by name when faulting her Jan. 23 briefing. But by focusing on a single briefing, some former officials said, his criticism seemed both personal and misplaced.

“It’s hard for me to imagine her saying something like ‘not so deadly,’” said Greg Treverton, a former National Intelligence Council chairman who worked with Ms. Sanner. “But it is conceivable that is what Trump heard and it wasn’t exactly said.”

Mr. Trump, who has mounted a yearslong attack on the intelligence agencies, is particularly difficult to brief on critical national security matters, according to interviews with 10 current and former intelligence officials familiar with his intelligence briefings.

The president veers off on tangents and getting him back on topic is difficult, they said. He has a short attention span and rarely, if ever, reads intelligence reports, relying instead on conservative media and his friends for information. He is unashamed to interrupt intelligence officers and riff based on tips or gossip he hears from the former casino magnate Steve Wynn, the retired golfer Gary Player or Christopher Ruddy, the conservative media executive.

Mr. Trump rarely absorbs information that he disagrees with or that runs counter to his worldview, the officials said. Briefing him has been so great a challenge compared with his predecessors that the intelligence agencies have hired outside consultants to study how better to present information to him.


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Working to keep Mr. Trump’s interest exhausted and burned out his first briefer, Ted Gistaro, two former officials said. Mr. Gistaro did not always know what to expect and would sometimes have to brief an erratic and angry president upset over news reports, the officials said.

Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, said that the idea that Mr. Trump was difficult in intelligence briefings was “flat wrong.” “When you are there, you see a president questioning the assumptions and using the opportunity to broaden the discussion to include real-world perspectives,” Mr. Grenell said.

White House officials disputed the characterization of Mr. Trump as inattentive. “The president is laser-focused on the issues at hand and asks probing questions throughout the briefings — it reminds me of appearing before a well-prepared appellate judge and defending the case,” Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, said in response to a request for comment.

Mr. Trump’s demeanor is hardly judicial, former officials said, but they acknowledged he occasionally asks good questions.

ImageRichard Grenell, left, the acting director of national intelligence, and Robert C. O’Brien, President Trump’s national security adviser, both frequently sit in on intelligence briefings at the White House.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

An official with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to make Ms. Sanner available for an interview, citing the sensitive nature of her work.

Mr. Trump has long harbored a suspicion of the intelligence agencies, viewing them as part of the so-called deep state intent on undermining his victory in 2016 by revealing that Russia developed a preference for his campaign as it interfered in the election. His distrust has persisted; he publicly belittled his intelligence chiefs last year after a congressional hearing where they offered assessments at odds with the White House, directing them to “go back to school.”


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Other presidents have had, at times, contentious relationships with their intelligence briefers. But unlike George W. Bush, who questioned assumptions underlying the analysis, or Barack Obama, who cited analysis from deep in his written briefing, Mr. Trump does not appear to read the document or to otherwise prepare beyond bringing in information he picked up from personal sources.

“How do you know?” is Mr. Trump’s common refrain during his 30- to 50-minute briefings two or three times a week. He counters with his own statistics on issues where he has strong views, like trade or NATO. Directly challenging him, even when his numbers are wrong, appears to erode Mr. Trump’s trust, according to former officials, and ultimately he stops listening.

H.R. McMaster, the former national security adviser, would sometimes interject during intelligence briefings to correct Mr. Trump, but the president would ignore him. The corrections contributed to the president’s growing irritation with Mr. McMaster, according to people familiar with the briefings. Mr. McMaster, who was replaced in 2018 after 13 months in the post, declined to comment.

Think of Mr. Trump as a performer who is always on, even in the confines of a classified briefing, Joseph Maguire, the former acting director of national intelligence, has advised other officials. Mr. Maguire has told briefers they need to know their audience and understand that Mr. Trump honed his style on reality television, said a former senior intelligence official. Mr. Maguire declined to comment.

Intelligence briefings are among the most important entries on a president’s calendar. The briefer, always a top C.I.A. analyst, delivers the latest secrets and best insights from the 17 intelligence agencies. The oral briefings to Mr. Trump are based on the President’s Daily Brief, the crown jewels of intelligence reports, which draws from spywork to make sophisticated analytic predictions about longstanding adversaries, unfolding plots and emerging crises around the world.

But getting Mr. Trump to remember information, even if he seems to be listening, can be all but impossible, especially if it runs counter to his worldview, former officials said.

When Ms. Sanner replaced Mr. Gistaro in 2019, she tried a new approach. She gives Mr. Trump an agenda to try to keep him on track and deploys a more analytical style than the just-the-facts delivery of Mr. Gistaro.


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Over her career, Ms. Sanner, 56, has directed the agency’s training program for new analysts, overseen the assembly of the most sensitive intelligence reports and has expertise in Central Europe, Russia and Southeast Asia. She relies on humor and sarcasm to get her point across and will subtly challenge the president.

If Mr. Trump diverges onto irrelevant topics, she will let him talk before interrupting to confidently ask to move on, said people who have seen Ms. Sanner brief the president.


Commuters on a train in Milan as Italy eased social restrictions last week. Mr. Trump is drawn to subjects like international economic developments.
Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

Mr. Trump, who made his name in real estate, is drawn to subjects like international economic developments. Ms. Sanner highlights that material and tells the president what is in the intelligence for him, according to people familiar with her briefing style. She draws from recent intelligence reports, or that day’s edition of the President’s Daily Brief, to lay out a compelling story around a new piece of intelligence. The technique is effective, according to associates of Ms. Sanner.

Mr. Trump has also shown interest in foreign leaders, particularly autocrats like President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, and Ms. Sanner mentions them to draw in the president on topics that he might otherwise tune out.

While Mr. Trump does not appear to read the intelligence reports he is given, he will examine graphs, charts and tables. Satellite pictures clearly interest him, too: He tweeted one from his intelligence brief, revealing the capabilities of some of the government’s most classified spy assets.


  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated May 20, 2020

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?

      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • Should I pull my money from the markets?

      That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.


Mr. Trump is hardly the only president to prefer oral briefings. Richard M. Nixon also rarely read his daily intelligence reports, instead receiving updates from Henry A. Kissinger, his national security adviser. Mr. O’Brien updates Mr. Trump on new intelligence throughout the day, including a morning phone call and an end-of-the-day meeting, said a senior administration official.


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At the start of Mr. Trump’s tenure, any discussion of Russia could upend the briefing, devolving into complaints by the president that he was unfairly being attacked in the press over Moscow’s election interference campaign.

“There was some venting, which at times made me a little bit frustrated,” Dan Coats, the former director of national intelligence, told congressional investigators. “I thought it was taking away from him getting the intelligence he needed.”

Ms. Sanner mostly sidesteps the risk by broadly covering election threats not just from Russia but also from China, North Korea and Iran.

White House aides have also limited the number of people who attend the intelligence briefings, in part to limit leaks and to restrict the sessions to senior officials that the president is comfortable with, former officials said. Ms. Sanner leads the discussion, and is accompanied most days by Mr. Grenell and often by Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director. Typically, Mr. O’Brien and the White House chief of staff sit in.


Mr. Trump publicly belittled his intelligence chiefs last year after a congressional hearing where they offered assessments at odds with the White House.
Credit…Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times

Ms. Sanner has cultivated a close relationship with Mr. Trump and has displayed respect for him, former officials said, so some of them were surprised when he and intelligence officials pinned blame for the administration’s coronavirus response on one of her briefings.

“On Jan. 23, I was told that there could be a virus coming in but it was of no real import,” Mr. Trump said in a recent interview with Fox News at the Lincoln Memorial. “In other words, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to do something.’ It was a brief conversation and it was only on Jan. 23.”


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Ms. Sanner did offer limited information in that briefing, an official said, and she compared the virus to SARS, a less contagious coronavirus from China that was more quickly contained. Former officials defended her, saying that the comparison served to help the president understand the threat.

China’s failure to share information, not Ms. Sanner’s presentation, was to blame for the relatively muted warning, according to current and former intelligence officials. Other intelligence officials also noted that public health officials, not spy agencies, were best positioned to sound early warnings about the pandemic.

By February, the intelligence agency warnings were more in line with the increasingly dire predictions of the National Security Council staff and the public health officials. But unlike his aggressive move in January barring travel from China, Mr. Trump later hesitated to act, ignoring increasingly strident warnings from officials who pressed for stronger steps as the threat became clear.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett contributed research.


An earlier version of this article misstated when Beth Sanner replaced Ted Gistaro as the analyst who delivers President Trump’s intelligence briefing. She started the job in 2019, not April 2017.

Julian E. Barnes is a national security reporter based in Washington, covering the intelligence agencies. Before joining The Times in 2018, he wrote about security matters for The Wall Street Journal. @julianbarnes  Facebook

Adam Goldman reports on the F.B.I. from Washington and is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. @adamgoldmanNY

We Are Living in a Failed State

Illustration: American flag at half-mast on IV stand

When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.

The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus—like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dys­func­tional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering. The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. From the president came willful blindness, scapegoating, boasts, and lies. From his mouthpieces, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. A few senators and corporate executives acted quickly—not to prevent the coming disaster, but to profit from it. When a government doctor tried to warn the public of the danger, the White House took the mic and politicized 
the message.

Every morning in the endless month of March, Americans woke up to find themselves citizens of a failed state. With no national plan—no coherent instructions at all—families, schools, and offices were left to decide on their own whether to shut down and take shelter. When test kits, masks, gowns, and ventilators were found to be in desperately short supply, governors pleaded for them from the White House, which stalled, then called on private enterprise, which couldn’t deliver. States and cities were forced into bidding wars that left them prey to price gouging and corporate profiteering. Civilians took out their sewing machines to try to keep ill-equipped hospital workers healthy and their patients alive. Russia, Taiwan, and the United Nations sent humanitarian aid to the world’s richest power—a beggar nation in utter chaos.

Donald Trump saw the crisis almost entirely in personal and political terms. Fearing for his re­election, he declared the coronavirus pandemic a war, and himself a wartime president. But the leader he brings to mind is Marshal Philippe Pétain, the French general who, in 1940, signed an armistice with Germany after its rout of French defenses, then formed the pro-Nazi Vichy regime. Like Pétain, Trump collaborated with the invader and abandoned his country to a prolonged disaster. And, like France in 1940, America in 2020 has stunned itself with a collapse that’s larger and deeper than one miserable leader. Some future autopsy of the pandemic might be called Strange Defeat, after the historian and Resistance fighter Marc Bloch’s contemporaneous study of the fall of France. Despite countless examples around the U.S. of individual courage and sacrifice, the failure is national. And it should force a question that most Americans have never had to ask: Do we trust our leaders and one another enough to summon a collective response to a mortal threat? Are we still capable of self-government?

This is the third major crisis of the short 21st century. The first, on September 11, 2001, came when Americans were still living mentally in the previous century, and the memory of depression, world war, and cold war remained strong. On that day, people in the rural heartland did not see New York as an alien stew of immigrants and liberals that deserved its fate, but as a great American city that had taken a hit for the whole country. Firefighters from Indiana drove 800 miles to help the rescue effort at Ground Zero. Our civic reflex was to mourn and mobilize together.

Partisan politics and terrible policies, especially the Iraq War, erased the sense of national unity and fed a bitter­ness toward the political class that never really faded. The second crisis, in 2008, intensified it. At the top, the financial crash could almost be considered a success. Congress passed a bi­partisan bailout bill that saved the financial system. Outgoing Bush-administration officials cooperated with incoming Obama­ administration officials. The experts at the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department used monetary and fiscal policy to prevent a second Great Depression. Leading bankers were shamed but not prosecuted; most of them kept their fortunes and some their jobs. Before long they were back in business. A Wall Street trader told me that the financial crisis had been a “speed bump.”

All of the lasting pain was felt in the middle and at the bottom, by Americans who had taken on debt and lost their jobs, homes, and retirement savings. Many of them never recovered, and young people who came of age in the Great Recession are doomed to be poorer than their parents. Inequality—the fundamental, relentless force in American life since the late 1970s—grew worse.

This second crisis drove a profound wedge between Americans: between the upper and lower classes, Republicans and Democrats, metropolitan and rural people, the native-born and immigrants, ordinary Americans and their leaders. Social bonds had been under growing strain for several decades, and now they began to tear. The reforms of the Obama years, important as they were—in health care, financial regulation, green energy—had only palliative effects. The long recovery over the past decade enriched corporations and investors, lulled professionals, and left the working class further behind. The lasting effect of the slump was to increase polarization ­and to discredit authority, especially government’s.

Both parties were slow to grasp how much credibility they’d lost. The coming politics was populist. Its harbinger wasn’t Barack Obama but Sarah Palin, the absurdly unready vice-presidential candidate who scorned expertise and reveled in celebrity. She was Donald Trump’s John the Baptist.

Trump came to power as the repudiation of the Republican establishment. But the conservative political class and the new leader soon reached an understanding. Whatever their differences on issues like trade and immigration, they shared a basic goal: to strip-mine public assets for the benefit of private interests. Republican politicians and donors who wanted government to do as little as possible for the common good could live happily with a regime that barely knew how to govern at all, and they made themselves Trump’s footmen.

Like a wanton boy throwing matches in a parched field, Trump began to immolate what was left of national civic life. He never even pretended to be president of the whole country, but pitted us against one another along lines of race, sex, religion, citizenship, education, region, and—every day of his presidency—political party. His main tool of governance was to lie. A third of the country locked itself in a hall of mirrors that it believed to be reality; a third drove itself mad with the effort to hold on to the idea of knowable truth; and a third gave up even trying.

Trump acquired a federal government crippled by years of right-wing ideological assault, politicization by both parties, and steady defunding. He set about finishing off the job and destroying the professional civil service. He drove out some of the most talented and experienced career officials, left essential positions unfilled, and installed loyalists as commissars over the cowed survivors, with one purpose: to serve his own interests. His major legislative accomplishment, one of the largest tax cuts in history, sent hundreds of billions of dollars to corporations and the rich. The beneficiaries flocked to patronize his resorts and line his reelection pockets. If lying was his means for using power, corruption was his end.

This was the American landscape that lay open to the virus: in prosperous cities, a class of globally connected desk workers dependent on a class of precarious and invisible service workers; in the countryside, decaying communities in revolt against the modern world; on social media, mutual hatred and endless vituperation among different camps; in the economy, even with full employment, a large and growing gap between triumphant capital and beleaguered labor; in Washington, an empty government led by a con man and his intellectually bankrupt party; around the country, a mood of cynical exhaustion, with no vision of a shared identity or future.

If the pandemic really is a kind of war, it’s the first to be fought on this soil in a century and a half. Invasion and occupation expose a society’s fault lines, exaggerating what goes unnoticed or accepted in peacetime, 
clarifying essential truths, raising the smell of buried rot.

The virus should have united Americans against a common threat. With different leadership, it might have. Instead, even as it spread from blue to red areas, attitudes broke down along familiar partisan lines. The virus also should have been a great leveler. You don’t have to be in the military or in debt to be a target—you just have to be human. But from the start, its effects have been skewed by the inequality that we’ve tolerated for so long. When tests for the virus were almost impossible to find, the wealthy and connected—­the model and reality-TV host Heidi Klum, the entire roster of the Brooklyn Nets, the president’s conservative allies—were somehow able to get tested, despite many showing no symptoms. The smattering of individual results did nothing to protect public health. Meanwhile, ordinary people with fevers and chills had to wait in long and possibly infectious lines, only to be turned away because they weren’t actually suffocating. An internet joke proposed that the only way to find out whether you had the virus was to sneeze in a rich person’s face.

When Trump was asked about this blatant unfairness, he expressed disapproval but added, “Perhaps that’s been the story of life.” Most Americans hardly register this kind of special privilege in normal times. But in the first weeks of the pandemic it sparked outrage, as if, during a general mobilization, the rich had been allowed to buy their way out of military service and hoard gas masks. As the contagion has spread, its victims have been likely to be poor, black, and brown people. The gross inequality of our health-care system is evident in the sight of refrigerated trucks lined up outside public hospitals.

We now have two categories of work: essential and non­essential. Who have the essential workers turned out to be? Mostly people in low-paying jobs that require their physical presence and put their health directly at risk: warehouse workers, shelf-stockers, Instacart shoppers, delivery drivers, municipal employees, hospital staffers, home health aides, long-haul truckers. Doctors and nurses are the pandemic’s combat heroes, but the supermarket cashier with her bottle of sanitizer and the UPS driver with his latex gloves are the supply and logistics troops who keep the frontline forces intact. In a smartphone economy that hides whole classes of human beings, we’re learning where our food and goods come from, who keeps us alive. An order of organic baby arugula on Amazon­Fresh is cheap and arrives overnight in part because the people who grow it, sort it, pack it, and deliver it have to keep working while sick. For most service workers, sick leave turns out to be an im­possible luxury. It’s worth asking if we would accept a higher price and slower delivery so that they could stay home.

The pandemic has also clarified the meaning of non­essential workers. One example is Kelly Loeffler, the Republican junior senator from Georgia, whose sole qualification for the empty seat that she was given in January is her immense wealth. Less than three weeks into the job, after a dire private briefing about the virus, she got even richer from the selling-off of stocks, then she accused Democrats of exaggerating the danger and gave her constituents false assurances that may well have gotten them killed. Loeffler’s impulses in public service are those of a dangerous parasite. A body politic that would place someone like this in high office is well advanced in decay.

The purest embodiment of political nihilism is not Trump himself but his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. In his short lifetime, Kushner has been fraudulently promoted as both a meritocrat and a populist. He was born into a moneyed real-estate family the month Ronald Reagan entered the Oval Office, in 1981—a princeling of the second Gilded Age. Despite Jared’s mediocre academic record, he was admitted to Harvard after his father, Charles, pledged a $2.5 million donation to the university. Father helped son with $10 million in loans for a start in the family business, then Jared continued his elite education at the law and business schools of NYU, where his father had contributed $3 million. Jared repaid his father’s support with fierce loyalty when Charles was sentenced to two years in federal prison in 2005 for trying to resolve a family legal quarrel by entrapping his sister’s husband with a prostitute and video­taping the encounter.

Jared Kushner failed as a skyscraper owner and a news­paper publisher, but he always found someone to rescue him, and his self-confidence only grew. In American Oligarchs, Andrea Bernstein describes how he adopted the outlook of a risk-taking entrepreneur, a “disruptor” of the new economy. Under the influence of his mentor Rupert Murdoch, he found ways to fuse his financial, political, and journalistic pursuits. He made conflicts of interest his business model.

So when his father-in-law became president, Kushner quickly gained power in an administration that raised amateur­ism, nepotism, and corruption to governing principles. As long as he busied himself with Middle East peace, his feckless meddling didn’t matter to most Americans. But since he became an influential adviser to Trump on the coronavirus pandemic, the result has been mass death.

In his first week on the job, in mid-March, Kushner co-authored the worst Oval Office speech in memory, interrupted the vital work of other officials, may have compromised security protocols, flirted with conflicts of interest and violations of federal law, and made fatuous promises that quickly turned to dust. “The federal government is not designed to solve all our problems,” he said, explaining how he would tap his corporate connections to create drive-through testing sites. They never material­ized. He was convinced by corporate leaders that Trump should not use presidential authority to compel industries to manufacture ventilators—then Kushner’s own attempt to negotiate a deal with General Motors fell through. With no loss of faith in himself, he blamed shortages of necessary equipment and gear on in­competent state governors.

To watch this pale, slim-suited dilettante breeze into the middle of a deadly crisis, dispensing business-school jargon to cloud the massive failure of his father-in-law’s administration, is to see the collapse of a whole approach to governing. It turns out that scientific experts and other civil servants are not traitorous members of a “deep state”—they’re essential workers, and marginalizing them in favor of ideologues and sycophants is a threat to the nation’s health. It turns out that “nimble” companies can’t prepare for a catastrophe or distribute lifesaving goods—only a competent federal government can do that. It turns out that everything has a cost, and years of attacking government, squeezing it dry and draining its morale, inflicts a heavy cost that the public has to pay in lives. All the programs defunded, stockpiles depleted, and plans scrapped meant that we had become a second-rate nation. Then came the virus and this strange defeat.

The fight to overcome the pandemic must also be a fight to recover the health of our country, and build it anew, or the hardship and grief we’re now enduring will never be redeemed. Under our current leadership, nothing will change. If 9/11 and 2008 wore out trust in the old political establishment, 2020 should kill off the idea that anti-politics is our salvation. But putting an end to this regime, so necessary and deserved, is only the beginning.

We’re faced with a choice that the crisis makes inescapably clear. We can stay hunkered down in self-isolation, fearing and shunning one another, letting our common bond wear away to nothing. Or we can use this pause in our normal lives to pay attention to the hospital workers holding up cellphones so their patients can say goodbye to loved ones; the planeload of medical workers flying from Atlanta to help in New York; the aerospace workers in Massachusetts demanding that their factory be converted to ventilator production; the Floridians standing in long lines because they couldn’t get through by phone to the skeletal unemployment office; the residents of Milwaukee braving endless waits, hail, and contagion to vote in an election forced on them by partisan justices. We can learn from these dreadful days that stupidity and injustice are lethal; that, in a democracy, being a citizen is essential work; that the alternative to solidarity is death. After we’ve come out of hiding and taken off our masks, we should not forget what it was like to be alone.

This article appears in the June 2020 print edition with the headline “Underlying Conditions.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to

GEORGE PACKER is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century and The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.

Coronavirus: Trump feuds with governors over authority

Why is this guy only 8 points behind Biden? Time to invoke 25th Amendment. Woodrow Wilson and frail Ike much less dangerous.

Media captionGovernor Andrew Cuomo: ‘We don’t have a king, we have a president’

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo accused President Donald Trump of “spoiling for a fight”, as the US leader lashed out at “Democrat Governors”.

Several states, including New York, have begun cautious talks on reopening, but Mr Trump has claimed he has “total” power to lift virus lockdowns.

Mr Cuomo refuted the claim on Tuesday as Mr Trump took to Twitter to criticise the governor.

The US is the epicentre of the pandemic with 592,743 cases and 25,239 deaths.

New York state has the most cases, with almost 190,000 cases and over 10,000 deaths. However, it has seen signs of improvement, with the number of people hospitalised due to coronavirus falling for the first time on Tuesday.

What’s the row about?

On Monday, Mr Trump wrote on Twitter that deciding when to reopen states was “the decision of the president”, not state governors, although he added that he would make his decision “in conjunction with governors”.

The US Constitution says that states maintain public order and safety. So far, it has been individual state governors who have issued lockdown or shelter-in-place orders.

Also on Monday, several US state governors discussed plans to resume economic activity without apparent input from the Trump administration.

Ten states – seven on the East Coast, led by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and three on the West Coast, led by California Governor Gavin Newsom, said they would co-ordinate how to reopen businesses after the outbreak is contained. All but one of the states is led by a Democratic governor.

Now, a row has erupted over who has the ultimate authority to lift lockdown orders.

Who said what?

On Monday night, Mr Trump gave a combative press conference where he feuded with reporters, criticised their coverage of how he handled the outbreak, and said that when it came to reopening the economy, “the president of the United States calls the shots”.

Media captionWATCH: Reporter challenges President Trump at briefing

“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total,” he said, adding: “They can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.”

His position has been contradicted by governors and legal experts. It also contrasts with his earlier position that the responsibility for fighting the outbreak and order lockdowns lies primarily with state governors.

The row continued on Tuesday, as Mr Cuomo told CBS Mr Trump did not have total authority to decide when to reopen businesses, because “we don’t have a king, we have a president”.

During his daily press briefing, Mr Cuomo criticised Mr Trump, adding he would “not engage” in a fight with him, but would have “no choice” if the president the threatened the welfare of New Yorkers.

He added: “I put my hand out in total partnership and co-operation with the president.”

Meanwhile, Mr Trump took the row to Twitter on Tuesday, criticising Mr Cuomo and issuing an oblique snipe at other governors.

“Tell the Democrat Governors that ‘Mutiny On The Bounty” was one of my all time favourite movies,” Mr Trump, a Republican, wrote.

“A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain.” The tale tells of a ship’s revolt in which mutineers meet with unhappy ends, with Mr Trump appearing to compare himself to the captain.

The president aimed particular fire at Mr Cuomo, who he said was calling “daily, even hourly, begging for everything,” like hospitals, beds, ventilators for his state. New York remains the US state hardest-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, reporting 778 deaths in the past 24 hours.

However, Mr Trump struck a less combative tone later on Tuesday, saying he would make a decision on the economy “in conjunction with governors” soon.

“We have tremendous support from governors, and what I do is going to be done in conjunction with governors.”

Media captionOlympic dreams dashed by a pandemic and politics 40 years apart – two swimmers talk about missing out

The Trump administration had previously signalled 1 May as a potential date for easing the restrictions.

The current White House recommendations for Americans to avoid restaurants and non-essential travel and keep in-person gatherings to no more than 10 people expire on 30 April.

However, the US’s top infectious diseases adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, told AP on Tuesday that the 1 May date might be “a bit overly optimistic”.

Referring to testing and tracing procedures, he said: “We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on, and we’re not there yet.”

Banner image reading 'more about coronavirus'

What strategies are other countries taking?

Globally, different approaches have been adopted to loosening lockdown restrictions.

The Chinese province of Wuhan, where coronavirus was first reported last December, has partially reopened after more than two months of isolation.

Spain has allowed around 300,000 nonessential workers to return to their jobs.

Italy – the hardest-hit country in Europe – will allow a narrow range of businesses to resume operations this week.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron has announced the country’s near-lockdown will extend until 11 May.

The UK government has said no one should expect any changes to its lockdown restrictions this week.

What else did Trump say?

Mr Trump told Monday’s briefing he did not intend to fire Anthony Fauci – a day after the president shared a tweet with the hashtag “#firefauci”.

Dr Fauci incurred the ire of the president’s supporters after he told CNN that lives could have been saved if the US had shut down earlier during the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Trump invited Dr Fauci – a key member of the White House coronavirus task force – to the stage in the opening minutes of the briefing.

The president said that he and Dr Fauci had been on the same page “from the beginning” and declared he liked the respected doctor.

“I think he’s a wonderful guy,” Mr Trump said, while adding that not everyone was happy with the health expert.

Dr Fauci has contradicted or corrected Mr Trump on scientific matters during the public health crisis. But on Monday, he conceded he had used “a poor choice of words” in his CNN interview.

While Mr Trump initially played down the threat of coronavirus, he was by no means alone among US public officials in doing so.

Dr Fauci himself on 17 February said the danger from coronavirus is “just minuscule” compared with the “real and present danger” of flu.

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