WASHINGTON—Speaking at a press conference to address the growing Covid-19 pandemic, White House senior advisor Jared Kushner admonished resource-stricken states this week that they should have shown some foresight and planned ahead before joining the Union. “To any governors coming to me and saying the White House hasn’t given them what they need, I would urge them to ask why they didn’t consider these possibilities centuries ago when they first joined together into a federal republic?” said Kushner, singling out Texas’ governor in particular and questioning why the Lone Star state didn’t simply start stockpiling their own ventilators or face masks back in 1884 when they allowed the United States to annex them from Mexico.””Some of you, like Massachusetts or Virginia, have actually had several hundred years with the knowledge that our Constitution grants significant independence in resource allocation to individual states. Frankly, you could have decided way back in 1776 that this setup wasn’t for you. Instead, you impulsively formed a unified nation without even considering the consequences. I’m sorry if I don’t sympathize here.” Kushner stressed that he was tired of hearing excuses from states that didn’t begin building a respirator cache in the 18th century because they were busy with westward expansion or that modern germ theory simply had not yet been developed.
Some Mississippi mayors had put controls in place to help fight the spread of coronavirus—until Gov. Tate Reeves issued an order overruling mayors and reopening many businesses. Reeves has made his choice about what’s important, at least in the short term.
Moss Point Mayor Mario King had closed restaurants for dining in, salons and barbershops,houses of worship, and more. Reeves’ order “completely makes our order null and void” and reopens much of what was closed. “So barbershops and salons are open today. People are actually at church making up Bible studies lost on Wednesday, so they’re having Thursday Bible studies. There are restaurants that re-opened their dine-in services today,” King told the Mississippi Free Press. “I understand they’re just trying to make a dollar, but if one person sneezes who has COVID-19 and someone else comes in, they’re possibly exposed to that. So his order puts our people at risk.”
King described Reeves’ action as “complete foolishness and foolery” that makes him “embarrassed not just as a mayor, but as a citizen of Mississippi. We are the laughingstock of the country because our governor has enacted an order that does not only protect the safety and welfare of the people, but puts Mississippians in harm’s way.”
On the afternoon of Saturday, March 7, Bernie Sanders stood in an empty conference room in a hotel in downtown Chicago, looking quietly agitated, like a man trying to figure out how to be in seven places at once. A couple of blocks away in Grant Park, where Barack Obama gave his soaring victory speech in November 2008, thousands of supporters awaited him as the sound system blasted a medley of songs with a familiar lyrical theme: “talkin’ ’bout a revolution” (by Tracy Chapman), “the revolution starts now” (Steve Earle), “burn, baby, burn” (the Trammps) “so let the revolution begin” (Flogging Molly). In a few minutes, one of his warm-up acts, a local teachers’ union organizer named Stacy Davis Gates, would be pointedly warning the crowd, “See, moderation is a dream killer.” And then, “Moderation is inhumane.”
At the park and in the conference room, the air was charged with a state of urgency that did not yet approach panic but was not so distant from it. After Joe Biden’s incredible string of victories on Super Tuesday, just four days earlier, a new phase of the Democratic primary campaign — one that greatly disfavored Sanders’s once-unstoppable candidacy — was now underway. Former opponents and media pundits were coalescing around Biden, the newly restored front-runner, all but demanding closure to the horse race — essentially, for Sanders to pack up and go back to Vermont. Sanders had a different view of the situation: In so swiftly closing ranks, his detractors were inadvertently proving the case he had been making all along.
“Look,” he told me, “we are taking on the establishment. Wall Street is now opening up their checkbooks for Biden, because we are a threat to them. The pharmaceutical industry strongly supports Biden. Health care stocks went up after Super Tuesday. So, no, I’m not shocked by this.”
I suggested to Sanders that while his candidacy was demanding soul-searching on the part of the Democratic Party, it was his failure to persuade its most reliable constituents — African-American voters — that had led him to this precarious moment. But the candidate remained fixated on his adversaries. “Look, what we’re trying to do is take on the entire political establishment,” he repeated. “We’re taking on the entire corporate establishment, the entire media establishment. The real question,” he continued as he edged toward the doorway, “is: A year ago, would somebody have believed that a grass-roots coalition would be where we are today, a few points behind the establishment candidate? That is the real question. We’re taking on everybody! That’s something that has not been done in American history!”
The campaign was nonetheless scrambling to at least slow if not reverse Biden’s momentum. Sanders had in effect conceded the South to his opponent, canceling a long-planned rally in Mississippi while furiously concentrating his efforts on the Midwest. Several appearances were added in Michigan, which would host its delegate-rich primary in three days. A victory there might change the narrative once more. Instead, as we now know, Sanders’s defeat in Michigan seemed to many to be the moment his campaign ended.
He stepped toward his waiting entourage out in the hallway, then turned back. “Do you understand what I’m saying? It’s like saying, you know, ‘We’re surprised you didn’t defeat the heavyweight champion of the world!’”
Less than three weeks earlier, members of the Democratic establishment had all but resigned themselves to Sanders as the party’s nominee. What could they do? He was playing by their rules, was dominating the early states and had the resources — starting with $18.2 million cash on hand at the beginning of the year, more than double Biden’s amount, and then receiving a whopping $46 million in donations in February alone — to outlast every challenger. This state of affairs seemed astounding even to Sanders himself. “Coming from where I’ve come from in my life,” he told me one afternoon in late February, “from the first time I ran for office and won 2 percent of the vote, and then the next time 1 percent of the vote, then 4 percent, then 6 percent — is the idea that, according to some polls, I’m leading the Democratic primary process for president of the United States, is that a little bit strange? Yes, it is.”
Sanders was sitting in a backstage holding room in Bakersfield, Calif., where he would soon be addressing a noisy crowd of mostly young white and Latino supporters. His voice was somewhat hoarse, and he would need to reserve what lung power he had left for when he would be yelling about “the whole damn 1 percent” a few minutes later, so Sanders asked me to sit in the heavy chair directly beside his. The 78-year-old candidate wore neither jacket nor tie, just a baggy and wrinkled light blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows like a 1960s union boss.
He seemed relaxed, even good-humored, beneath his eternally dyspeptic veneer as he reflected on the improbable arc that began with his tenure as a small-city mayor 39 years earlier. “What we accomplished in Burlington is very much on my mind as I think about the presidency,” he said. He ticked off some of those accomplishments: Most of them reflected liberal priorities, like fighting greedy landlords and “recognizing the gay community in a way that was never done before,” but a few were nonideological triumphs, like bringing a minor-league baseball team to Burlington and rebuilding the city’s wastewater plant. A few days earlier, his wife and confidante, Jane Sanders, told me that they had been discussing potential members of a Sanders cabinet. The media was “crazy, totally wrong” in its speculation about what his administration would look like, she insisted, adding that his choices “will not be coming from the corporate world for the F.D.A. and E.P.A.” She declined to offer further details, explaining, “The way politics is now, if you float a name, that person will be destroyed.”
As the candidate and I talked, the chants outside — “Ber-NIE! Ber-NIE!” — threatened to drown out our conversation. Sanders ended it with a handshake and 10 minutes later took the stage, eventually tugging a generic blue baseball cap over his bald scalp to ward off the California sun.
Pacing and forcefully gesticulating, he delivered an only slightly updated version of the 30-minute speech he has been delivering since 2015, when the political world suffered its first rude awakening to the septuagenarian socialist and his youth-driven insurgent campaign. A great deal had changed since then, but Sanders’s blunt-instrument oratory had not. “The Republican establishment is getting nervous!” he bellowed. “The Democratic establishment is getting nervous! And they’re going a little bit nuts! ‘How can we stop Bernie? How can we stop the movement of millions of people who are standing up for justice?’ So I’ve got news for the Republican establishment, I’ve got news for the Democratic establishment: THEY CAN’T STOP US!”
To the ears of many in the party establishment, such ranting stood as proof that Sanders — belligerently iconoclastic, stoking populist fury over a rigged system and vowing to carry on regardless of what damage it did to other Democratic office seekers — was a left-wing version of Donald Trump: No matter how many voters Sanders brought along with him, his revolution had the edgy makings of what some were calling a hostile takeover.
The next day, Sanders scored a decisive victory in the Nevada caucuses, in large measure because of Latino voters. Having long demonstrated his appeal among the under-40 electorate, Sanders now seemed to have a viable Democratic coalition in his grasp — something that none of his opponents had, to that point, been able to demonstrate. The unthinkable was starting to seem inevitable as the Democratic establishment somberly contemplated the implications of an avowed socialist at the top of the 2020 ticket. Would Sanders cost them the chance to pick up Senate seats in Arizona and Colorado? Would it cost them their House majority?
Fueling their anxieties was an apparently bottomless trove of provocative videos. Sanders in Moscow during the Cold War, praising the Soviet Union’s mass-transit system. Sanders proposing a cap on individual wealth. Sanders expressing admiration for the literacy program introduced by Fidel Castro. When we talked in February, he pointed out to me that most if not all of these statements dated to before he was elected to Congress, back when he was “a reasonably young man.” (In the case of Castro’s literacy program, however, Sanders doubled down on the compliment last month, telling “60 Minutes”: “He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”) I asked if it was fair to say that he had undergone a philosophical evolution since then. “Of course I have,” he said. “Look, what human being doesn’t undergo changes?” He added, “If you’re not a moron, you learn.”
Sanders spoke as if this were a given. At the same time, the man so often described by his campaign ads and senior staff members as “authentic” and “consistent” seemed content to live and die by his reputation for being as immutable as gravity. Nearly all his current and former aides have perfected an impersonation of his thudding Brooklynese. He is understood to be a loner, a constant if not deep thinker with a resting glower and restless hair and an incapacity for niceties. He is an avid nonpresence on the Washington social circuit, has little time for the Beltway media (with its frequent comparisons of Sanders and Trump) and has even less time for the Vermont media (which has offended him by raising questions about his family’s activities, including Jane Sanders’s troubled tenure as president of Burlington College, when her decision to buy waterfront land for the campus sent the institution into financial insolvency).
Sanders the socialist does indeed have three houses: a Washington apartment that one former aide called “ratty”; a Burlington home so modest that in 2015 his presidential campaign advisers wanted to hold an open house so reporters could see for themselves what a skinflint Sanders was; and, yes, a lake house in North Hero, Vt., that Sanders bought with royalties from his memoir but seldom visits because he is not fond of vacationing. Nor is he a fan of sharing personal details. After considerable urging from his staff, Sanders now tells audiences that he is the son of a Polish émigré who arrived in Brooklyn penniless and unable to speak English. But while a Barack Obama or a Marco Rubio might draw from such material an uplifting only-in-America parable, the narrative Sanders quickly shifts to is how America has abjectly failed those of his working-class pedigree.
Never mind his biography, he seems to be saying. “You want to know how Bernie Sanders will govern?” Sanders asked me in Bakersfield. “He was elected mayor in 1981. Check out his record. He was elected to Congress in 1990. Check out his record. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006. Check out his record. Now people want to go back and look at something I said or did in the 1970s — fine, it’s there. If you really want to know what I’d do as president, you might want to check on what I did as an elected official.”
It’s indeed a curious fact that those who despise Sanders and those who worship him all tend to base their appraisals almost entirely on his words, past and present, rather than on his deeds — to see him as a bomb-throwing outsider even though he has held elected office for 39 years, about half his life. Then again, Sanders himself says little about his moments of governance, apart from his vote against the Iraq war in 2002.
The early chapters of Sanders’s political evolution are a familiar-enough story by now: the odyssey of the Brooklyn-bred lefty writer and documentary filmmaker who moved to the Vermont-Canada border during the Vietnam draft, ran for U.S. senator and Vermont governor in the 1970s on the socialist Liberty Union party ticket and made national headlines in 1981 as the socialist who beat the incumbent mayor of Burlington by 10 votes. Jane Sanders told me: “Somebody asked him, ‘What do you consider yourself?’ And he said, you know, ‘Democratic socialist.’ And of course then they make a big deal out of it. The New York Times, when he was elected mayor of Burlington, pushed it: ‘Socialist Elected Mayor in Burlington, Vt.’” (The actual headline was “Vermont Socialist Plans Mayoralty With Bias Toward Poor.”) She continued: “They did a bigger story on that than when he announced for president, which they put on A19.” Sanders characterizes his mayoral triumph as a victory for movement politics, noting to me the support he received from “people in the low-income housing projects, women, police unions and neighborhood organizations — a working-class coalition that was very dissatisfied with the status quo.”
But what’s more notable about Sanders’s eight-year tenure as mayor was how ably he governed from the center-left. Though the establishment-minded local paper, The Burlington Free Press, had initially opposed his candidacy, “by the third term, we were endorsing him,” recalled Jim Welch, who was the paper’s executive editor at the time. “And it was justified. It’s true that he talked a lot about Reagan’s policies toward Central America and nuclear arms. But mainly he was focused on things like keeping the streets plowed and supporting the arts scene. He worked closely with the business community to revitalize the waterfront and preserve the downtown pedestrian mall. I think by the end of it, the business leaders found themselves saying, ‘Boy, I think we made that work.”
In 1990, three years after U.S. News & World Report named Sanders one of America’s best mayors, he defeated the Republican incumbent for Vermont’s at-large congressional seat. He found no hero’s welcome in Washington, however. Referring to the centrist Democratic coalition, Jane Sanders recalled, “The Blue Dogs didn’t want Bernie in the caucus: ‘He’s an independent; let him go be an independent.”
Feeling snubbed, Sanders reverted to fringe leftist, a loner who vocally criticized Democrats and Republicans in more or less equal measure and was safely ignorable by both. “We didn’t have much contact with him, either on bills or on votes,” former Representative John Tanner, a Tennessee Democrat who led the Blue Dog caucus during Sanders’s House tenure, told me. A senior House Democrat (who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to be seen as stoking intraparty tensions) unfavorably compared Sanders’s 16-year legacy with that of one of his most vigorous supporters today, Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington State: “She’s equally liberal, and she’s made a very big impression in her first three years in Congress. That was not Bernie.”
In 2005, Jim Jeffords, the Republican-turned-independent senator from Vermont, announced his retirement. Within days, Sanders declared his intention to run for the seat. Recognizing that Sanders was probably popular enough to beat any Democratic candidate, the party’s Senate leaders, Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer (who attended the same Brooklyn high school as Sanders), opted instead to pre-emptively welcome him to their caucus with open arms. “It was night and day,” Jane Sanders recalled. “Harry asked Bernie, ‘What do you want?’ And he got five committee assignments.”
In return, Reid got the Burlington-mayor version of Bernie Sanders. As a senator, he worked to move whatever legislation was in front of him to the left: expanding Social Security benefits, restricting loopholes for pharmaceutical companies, demanding that the bank-reform bill include an audit of the Federal Reserve. But he also voted reliably with the Democratic caucus. He worked successfully with some Republicans, including John McCain, on a 2014 bill to improve medical access for military veterans. In 2018, he worked with Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, on a war-powers resolution seeking to end America’s role in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen (which Trump subsequently vetoed).
Sanders was no more immune to pork-barrel politics than any other senator, setting aside his dovish proclivities to support basing F-35 jets at the Vermont Air National Guard base in Burlington. And he could be diplomatic in his pursuit of his big-picture ambitions. When Reid asked for his support for the Affordable Care Act in late 2009, Sanders agreed in exchange for two concessions: a $10 billion addition in the bill for community health centers and a floor vote on Sanders’s preferred health care measure, a single-payer system. Reid agreed to both. When Republicans tried a parliamentary measure on the single-payer-amendment vote that would delay and perhaps scuttle the A.C.A. altogether, Sanders, rather than standing on principle, withdrew the amendment.
Sanders even attended a few Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee events with wealthy donors as a favor to Schumer — a fact that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign would use against him, leaking a photo of Sanders sunbathing at a committee retreat. Tad Devine, Sanders’s strategist in 2016, who had worked for Al Gore and John Kerry’s presidential campaigns, recalls Sanders’s telling him during the campaign, “Tad, you’re my link to the Democratic establishment.” Somewhat taken aback, Devine replied: “Bernie, you’re a U.S. senator. What’s more establishment than that?”
By allying himself with the Democratic Party in the Senate instead of heckling from the fringe, Sanders did sporadically succeed at pushing the party to the left. And his decision to mount a Democratic primary campaign in the 2016 presidential election, instead of a third-party one, had profound consequences for him and for the party. In March 2015, according to Gallup, 76 percent of Americans had either not heard of or had no opinion of Sanders. By the end of 2016, he was one of the most famous politicians in the country, with a higher favorability rating than either Hillary Clinton or Trump. As he won enough early primaries to forestall Clinton’s easy victory, she was forced to move left on Social Security and trade agreements; practically overnight, Sanders’s pet issues like Medicare for All and universal higher education went from fringe positions to the center of Democratic policy debates.
Even before Sanders quit the race early in the summer of 2016, the river of bad blood between his insurgent campaign and the Democratic establishment seemed impossible to bridge. When Devine advised his client to voice his support for Hillary Clinton, Devine recalls Sanders’s replying: “Listen, Tad, you don’t know what it’s like to go in front of 20,000 people. As soon as I mention her name, they’ll scream. I’m going to bring them along; it’s going to have to be a process. Let’s start with the Democratic platform.”
An ugly platform fight then ensued, beginning with squabbles over which members of Sanders’s camp would be allowed on the platform committee and extending into fights over language about fracking, health care and Israel. And though Sanders made more than 30 campaign stops for Clinton during the final weeks of the campaign, an internal analysis of Cooperative Congressional Election Study data conducted by the Sanders pollster Ben Tulchin found that a distinct cohort of Sanders’s electorate had migrated into Trump’s column.
Still, Sanders and the Democratic establishment were not quite finished with each other. Schumer created a Senate leadership post for Sanders, putting him in charge of “outreach” — that is to say, developing grass-roots support for the party on key issues. The party had come to recognize, however grudgingly, that Sanders had proved himself as more than just an agitator. He had galvanized young voters in a way no candidate from either party had done since Obama, building a millions-strong grass-roots army and small-donor database at a time when the party — cast entirely out of power in Washington, fighting the dismantling of Obama’s policy legacy and looking ahead to the 2018 midterm elections — needed all the help it could get.
As Sanders began staffing up for his 2020 presidential campaign, he recruited three alumni of Reid’s staff: Josh Orton became his national policy director, Faiz Shakir joined as his campaign manager and Ari Rabin-Havt was named Shakir’s deputy. In an unusual move, Sanders also hired Hillary Clinton’s former opposition researcher, Tyson Brody, who had spent several months in the previous cycle digging up dirt on the man who would now be his boss. The 2020 campaign would outraise the competition by a two-to-one margin in the first three contests and deploy superior technological tools — among them peer-to-peer texting, the Bern app (which proved to be a key organizing resource for the Sanders operation in Iowa) and the live-streaming of every single campaign event. It also advertised heavily in Latino communities on Sanders’s economic message, steadily gaining support from that group in early states like Nevada and California while Biden’s Latino numbers remained static, as entrance and exit polls in those states would later reveal.
In the meantime, Sanders decided early in the race — against the advice of several of his top aides — to go easy on the front-runner Biden, an establishment figure who had always treated him with kindness and respect. It’s difficult to imagine what else the party would have wanted out of a top-tier campaign — except to have someone besides Sanders at the head of it.
The high point of the Sanders campaign occurred on Feb. 22, the date of the Nevada caucuses. No team was better prepared for that event. Sanders had a paid staff of more than 200 in Nevada, an astonishing commitment that reflected a strategic determination to dominate the early states. From the moment I entered the East Las Vegas Community Center, a caucus site serving a densely Latino part of the city, it was apparent who was going to win that day. Sanders regalia dominated the panorama, his volunteers outnumbering those for all the other candidates combined — Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer — by perhaps three to one. The volunteers were well prepared and, in almost all cases, unfailingly courteous to the others in attendance.
But then I happened to notice a lanky, bearded young man in a burgundy cap that read “Bernie.” He was tailing Julián Castro, the former housing secretary and presidential candidate now stumping for Warren at this site — walking inches behind Castro and asking mocking questions about his tenure in the Obama administration that the secretary studiously ignored. Then off to my left, I heard a male voice shout: “That’s an absolute lie! You’re a liar! Show me your studies!” It was a stocky young white man in a blue T-shirt that identified him as a “captain” among Sanders’s Nevada volunteers. He was yelling at a black man who had been telling another caucusgoer that Sanders’s Medicare for All plan would double his taxes.
A middle-aged white woman who was a more senior volunteer than the captain rushed over. Apologizing to the black man, she said: “We all come from the same place. We all want a future for our children.” Pulling the captain aside, I could hear her quietly admonish him as his face reddened: “When you start yelling at someone instead of trying to persuade them, do you know what happens? They call you a Bernie Bro.”
Over and over, Sanders insisted that his coalition amounted to a “unity campaign.” An early sign that Democratic voters did not necessarily see it that way, however, was visible in the Iowa caucuses. The caucus rules allow voters whose preferred candidates fall short on the first ballot to switch their support to another candidate on the second. But while Sanders performed strongly on the first ballot, he attracted notably few additional caucusgoers on the second and came up just short of Buttigieg, who won, in the final delegate tally.
When it came to broadening its coalition, the Sanders campaign offered few gestures of conciliation: no intimations that he would govern as he did in Burlington and in the Senate; no across-the-board denunciations of Bernie Bro harassment; no evocation of an America under a Sanders presidency in which it was possible to see anything other than round-the-clock class warfare.
“What separates Bernie’s team,” said Brian Fallon, the press secretary for the 2016 Clinton campaign and a veteran of Democratic politics, “is that they’re movement people. A lot of people in the operative class who do this for a living are highly skilled but also a little bit functionary: They move from one cycle to the next, very malleable with platforms and agendas.” He went on: “The people Bernie attracts, and I mean this as a compliment, are people who wouldn’t sign up for just anything. If they weren’t with him, they’d be grinding away at an advocacy organization or laboring with a House primary challenger. They’re driven by the cause.” Indeed, many of the campaign’s most important state directors — among them Misty Rebik in Iowa and Rafael Navar in California — were veteran progressive activists, not barnacled campaign itinerants. They were believers recruiting other believers from a universe that in many cases had become alienated from the Democratic Party.
At times, Sanders’s top staff members appeared to wear alienation as a badge of honor. Jeff Weaver, the campaign’s chief strategist, who began his association with Sanders as his campaign driver in 1986, informed reporters in the spin room after the Feb. 26 debate that the very idea of Sanders as the Democratic nominee accepting the billion dollars that Mike Bloomberg has pledged to defeat Trump was “a hard no.” When I asked Rabin-Havt, the deputy campaign manager, whether Bernie’s Democratic detractors simply feared that a socialist was unelectable, he replied: “I think they have laughed at us and ignored us for two years now. And I would link the establishment forces, in a broad sense, to the media, the people who attend cocktail parties and give $2,800 to candidates while eating canapés, the people who were at the Alfalfa Club after-party at Jeff Bezos’s house. I was talking to someone from that set the other day. They said: ‘Just who are your donors? I don’t think I’ve ever met a Bernie donor.’ Exactly! Our world is your server at Starbucks, the guy who packs and sends your books from Amazon. That is our world.”
That sense of embattlement has bred solidarity within the Sanders ranks, but also a view that every conceivable force is arrayed against them. Sanders aides privately expressed to me their belief that the party deliberately chose not to schedule a debate between Super Tuesday and the Michigan primary so as to disadvantage Sanders; that leading data analysts like Nate Silver, Nate Cohn and David Wasserman were willfully “anti-Bernie”; that news organizations, including this one, had a conscious bias against Sanders. The candidate himself wondered aloud to reporters whether The Washington Post, which is owned by the megabillionaire Jeff Bezos, had possibly conspired with intelligence officials to leak a classified briefing in which Sanders was told that President Vladimir Putin of Russia was trying to aid his candidacy.
Above all, they resent the charge that Sanders is an “all or nothing” absolutist. One top Sanders aide reminded me that it was, after all, Sanders, the supposed Medicare for All zealot, who in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration headed rallies in an effort to save Obama’s imperiled Affordable Care Act. “The fundamental point of the attack,” the aide then said, “is to show that Bernie really doesn’t care about the people he’s fighting for and cares more about the purity of his ideology. That’s [expletive] and has been disproven by what he’s done.”
So why wouldn’t Sanders make these points? Why wouldn’t the aide say them on the record? “We didn’t come into politics yesterday,” he replied dryly. “So, no, especially in a primary campaign, you’re not going to see us compromise with ourselves on the trademark issues.”
The case for Sanders as the superior Democratic nominee was simple and not without logic. As the party’s pre-eminent progressive, he could assemble a solid liberal coalition: young voters, as he had already demonstrated in 2016; Latinos, who had not been particularly animated by Clinton’s immigration-centric appeals; and, as the fruit of relentless lobbying since his disappointing performance the previous cycle, a sizable following of African-Americans. Sanders also maintained that he alone could appeal to the blue-collar workers who, going back to his days governing Burlington, had been his original base.
“I was born into the white working class, all right?” Sanders told me. “And one of the very sad things that has happened, and this has been statistically demonstrated, is, unbelievably, that the Democratic Party has become the party of the more affluent people, while the Republican Party has become the party of the white working class.”
But Sanders wasn’t simply a bystander to those shifting allegiances. During his time as mayor, demonstrators threatened to shut down Burlington’s G.E. plant, which manufactured Gatling-style guns being shipped by the U.S. to fight leftists in Central America. But the plant also employed hundreds of union workers. Sanders sided with the workers. Today, Sanders was calling for a ban on fracking as a crucial plank in his Green New Deal. Tens of thousands of jobs would be lost — many of which happened to be in the western part of Pennsylvania, a swing state that was vital for a Democratic victory in November.
“Anytime you’re honest and have to make difficult decisions, you’re going to lose some support,” he said. “I understand that. But on the issue of climate change, it’s totally irresponsible for any candidate to deny the reality of what we’re facing.” Sanders added that he had seven grandchildren and that workers in the fossil-fuel industry had kids, too. Besides, he maintained, the union workers knew full well that they “are not my enemy” — and that by providing them with five years of paid retraining, as well as free education and health care, “we’ll protect them.”
But the conundrum Sanders now found himself in with blue-collar voters was of his own making. In 2016, he attracted many of them with a relentless message of economic reform. For this cycle, the candidate chose to run on an all-encompassing “movement” platform with key components — gun control, liberalization of immigration policy and that ban on fracking — that risked raising questions among the white working class as to whether Sanders would, in fact, “protect them.”
This proved to be the first crack to appear in what Sanders saw as his wall. In Iowa, the rural counties went for Buttigieg. The low overall turnout in that overwhelmingly white state was, as Shakir put it, “worrisome for the entire field” — but especially so for Sanders, who had vowed that young people would turn out in “unprecedented” numbers. A week later in New Hampshire, the voting tallies were more reassuring, but Sanders could not credibly boast that he was chiefly responsible for them, because he won by a little more than one percentage point. Even in Nevada, where Sanders took 53 percent of the Latino vote, there was reason to question whether history really was being made by his campaign: Overall Democratic turnout reached 100,000 with the help of a new early-voting provision that did not exist in the Obama-Clinton face-off of 2008, when turnout nonetheless hit 116,000.
Sanders allowed that he had failed to connect with voters of color in 2016. “My state has a very small African-American community,” he told me in Bakersfield. “We have a very small Latino population in Vermont. So, you learn.” In fact, the Sanders campaign learned very little about how to win over black voters in South Carolina. His team would insist that they had never expected to win there — too conservative, too small a youth population — but early on, they believed they could cut into Biden’s margin. Doing so, however, would have required a yearlong effort to recast Biden as an antibusing and pro-incarceration senator who had previously advocated cuts in Social Security — and to target this message to African-Americans who might not be aware of the vice president’s record. But Sanders, ever skeptical of pollsters and reluctant to go on the attack, would not approve a research budget for such an effort.
One of Sanders’s black surrogates in South Carolina, Ivory Thigpen, a pastor and state representative, told me 10 days after the primary that Biden had vulnerabilities. “I remember having conversations with many of my congregants who would say, ‘I don’t know, the vice president seems kind of shaky,” Thigpen said. But, he added, the Sanders campaign did not exploit those concerns with ads focusing on Biden’s record on, for example, Social Security. “I don’t think that was ever a topic of discussion,” he said. “I do think it could’ve moved the needle some.”
Instead, African-American voters were left to focus on Sanders’s sweeping agenda. “One of the things you have to take into consideration with the older generation is that they don’t want things to change,” Thigpen said. “I remember one individual who literally said to me: ‘My Medicare isn’t for all. I worked for it; it’s mine. And now you want to give it away to someone else who hadn’t earned it.”
Biden took 61 percent of South Carolina’s black vote, won in a landslide and seized the momentum from Sanders. Over the next two days, Buttigieg and Klobuchar — nearly out of cash, with no support of their own from voters of color and now seeing Biden as a viable moderate for the first time — quit the race and threw their support to him on the eve of Super Tuesday. Their withdrawal from the campaign exposed Sanders’s underlying weakness: His electoral floor and his ceiling were essentially one and the same. As a result, he could prosper only in a field that was overcrowded with moderate candidates. “Had they not dropped out,” Ben Tulchin, his pollster, told me, “we would’ve continued to win with a 30 percent share of the vote. We would’ve won Minnesota, Maine, Massachusetts and probably Texas. That’s seven primaries we would’ve taken. The story would have been totally different.”
Instead, the story of Super Tuesday was that the party was rallying around Biden as the likeliest Democrat to defeat Trump. Many of his victories on March 3 occurred with far less ad spending and field organizing than Sanders had devoted. For Sanders, the problem wasn’t a mismatch in resources owing to the dark-hearted connivances of the 1 percent. The problem was the 99 percent. A majority of them had turned away from their leftmost option, just as they did in the 2018 midterms, when a wave of Democratic voters rejected progressives running in battleground districts. Replacing Trump, it seemed, was all the revolution most Democrats wanted.
Just after Klobuchar and Buttigieg suspended their presidential campaigns and, along with the former candidate Beto O’Rourke, announced their support of Biden in early March, Shakir valiantly spun the news to me as a sign of Sanders’s strength. “Quite frankly, I see fear and panic in the establishment,” the campaign manager said. “They wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t think Bernie Sanders was on a path to winning the nomination and in fact the presidency. And I think those who are accustomed to having and enjoying power might see this as a threat to them.”
Shakir did not seem to think these developments represented honest concerns about having a democratic socialist at the top of the ticket. Like his boss, the campaign manager believed that this was solely about the establishment’s determination to install a protector of the status quo. He insisted to me that Team Bernie was in fact delighted to see it come down to their boss versus Biden — “a perfect foil,” he maintained. “Because they lived through the same moments together, saw the same information, saw the Iraq war, the bankruptcy bill, the balanced-budget bill that tried to cut Social Security, the same trade deals. And one person voted the right side of history and the other the wrong side. And when you vote, judgment is the most important factor.”
But now the Sanders campaign was confronting the judgment of voters: Biden had a center-left coalition (including the allegiance of the party’s crucial black constituency) that seemed capable of prevailing in a general election, while the Sanders movement relied on young voters who weren’t coming out all that abundantly in February and March and therefore couldn’t be counted on to produce a record turnout in November. Precisely because he had come so far — from “Who the hell is Bernie?” to “How the hell do we stop Bernie?”— the gale force of the post-Super Tuesday “Stop Bernie” movement felt, to Bernie and Jane Sanders, far more brutal than it did during the previous cycle. This was not really about wanting to unseat Trump, in the Sanderses’ view. This was about shutting down Sanders’s anti-establishment critique. Little seemed to have changed since the spring of 2015, when Hillary Clinton’s upstart challenger was told by his aides that he might not be able to get on the ballot for the New Hampshire primary because of an obscure provision stating that only registered party members could do so. His muttered reply to a campaign aide then could apply now: “[Expletive] Democrats.”
“The only reason Bernie’s in this race,” Jane Sanders told me in early February, “is because we think he’s the best chance to defeat Trump.” Sanders himself acknowledged this foremost priority the day after his electoral firewall collapsed in Michigan — and then added, with a degree of candor that was remarkable even for him, that millions of Democratic voters across the nation happened to disagree that he represented the best chance of doing so.
Sanders concluded his brief remarks to the press that Wednesday afternoon by enumerating questions he intended to ask “my friend Joe Biden” at their first and only one-on-one debate four days later. It was a signal that Sanders intended for his legacy to be not a kamikaze mission but instead something more fruitful for the party that was never his. In 2016, Sanders proved he could energize a new generation of voters. During this cycle, he found a way to organize and communicate effectively with Latinos — evidenced not only in Nevada and California but also along the border in Texas, where his delegate share came to just nine shy of Biden’s. That accomplishment is no cheap trick. Should Biden, the probable nominee, combine his gains in the Dallas and Houston suburbs with his former rival’s organizational superiority near the Mexican border, Texas could flip to the Democrats for the first time since 1976.
In defeat, Sanders has prompted a reckoning within the Democratic Party. He has forced upon it an airing of ideological differences, compelling progressives and moderates to choose their leader and then make the case in public. Since the rise of the Tea Party, self-described “principled conservatives” like Senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton have claimed that they, too, yearn for such a debate with the Republican Party’s center-right establishment, only to opt for Trumpism instead. Even as the two-man race has taken a more pugilistic turn while the economy reels and a pandemic sweeps the globe, Sanders has remained steadfast in his willingness to let the Democratic voters judge him by his democratic-socialist vision of what America should be. And so, it would seem, they have.
“It’s never been about only winning the election,” Jane Sanders told me in February, back when victory was a distinct possibility. “I mean, if you won just because you were the one with the superior campaign strategies, that would not be terribly satisfying in the end. It’s much more satisfying to pick up the paper, go online or watch TV and see town halls of people questioning their senators about Medicare for All from a more informed point of view, using facts rather than vitriol. That’s been so moving to see, really. So gratifying.”
The notion that political change and electoral victory were often two different things — that the former could and did occur without the latter — has been an essential tenet of Sanders’s underdog career. On the day after Elizabeth Warren announced that she was suspending her campaign, the Vermont senator held a news conference. He wore his navy blazer and a matching tie, an implicit show of respect for the vanquished; and though he took handwritten notes to the lectern, he barely glanced at them, instead gazing reflectively at no one in particular. He observed that many politicians “fade away” as their losing campaigns do. This would not be Warren’s fate, he said. Then he explained why: “She has changed political consciousness in America — which, at the end of the day, is the most important thing that any candidate could do.”
Impeached president Donald Trump is taking his war on blue states to a new level. He has declared California, New York, and Washington state coronavirus disaster areas, but has so far refused to release a key part of that designation: unemployment assistance.
That’s specific, disaster-related unemployment insurance to go to workers who aren’t eligible for traditional UI, like gig economy workers. Under the program, they can receive 26 weeks of benefits if their job loss is a result of the disaster, either because their position has been eliminated or they can’t get to their job site. When the disaster was declared—March 20 in New York and March 22 in California and Washington—the Federal Emergency Management Agency said that “federal emergency aid has been made available.” The unemployment funds, however, have not been released.
Politico reports that the only aid the administration has released to the three states has been for “crisis counseling,” and that a “senior administration official said the administration is holding off on approving requests for disaster unemployment assistance because it anticipates Congress will provide similar protections in the coronavirus stimulus package under negotiation.” Given the flux we’ve seen in the last five days on that legislation, that’s a bullshit excuse.
“We appreciate that the federal government has recognized the severity of the public health emergency,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said; however, that declaration did not “unlock many forms of federal assistance we have requested to help workers.” Jack Sterne, a spokesperson for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, added, “It is time for the federal government to provide Disaster Unemployment Assistance to New Yorkers.”
Inslee and three other governors—Mike Dunleavy (R-Alaska), Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), and J.B. Pritzker (D-Illinois)—wrote to Trump on Tuesday, urging him to free up the funds and move faster in declaring disasters for all their states. “Even as states enact policies to flexibly provide unemployment insurance to those in need,” the governors wrote, “we are still leaving many hourly and independent workers behind who desperately need assistance during this crisis.”
GIVING THE PRESIDENT HIS DUE BEFORE THE CRITICISM:
HE HAS FINALLY “GOTTEN” IT (?) AND BEHIND MOBILIZING, FOR HIM AND REPUBLICANS, A HUGE PROACTIVE AID PACKAGE FOR ‘SAVING THE COUNTRY’
i’M GOING TO SAY HE MEANS WELL AND SO HAS GOTTEN OUT OF HIS COMFORT ZONE.
BY THE VERY LOW STANDARDS OF GOVERNMENT ACTIVISM FOR TRUMP AND THIS COHORT OF HIS SUPPORTERS (A MINORITY OF REGISTERED VOTERS), HE HAS FINALLY RISEN TO THE OCCASION.
THE PROBLEMS WITH THE PRESIDENT’S MAGICAL THINKING:
EVERY SCIENTIST, MEDICAL PERSON, MOST JOURNALISTS AND STATE GOVERNORS RECOGNIZE THAT THE IDEA OF SOME RETUR TO NORMALITY BY APRIL 12TH EASTER WE WILL ALL BE HUGGING AND GOING TO CHURCH TO CELEBRATE IS SHEER FANTASY. IF THIS BELIEF INFLUENCES HIS POLICY MOVES, HE WILL BEAR CRIMINAL REPEAT CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR FEDERAL UNDER-ACTION, (NOT INACTION BUT LESS THAN NEEDED ACTION)
2. HIS STRESS AND HIS LAP-DOG MIKE PENCES’S BRIEFINGS ON THE HEROIC MEASURES HE IS TAKING AND THAT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WILL APPRECIATE THIS, BE BEHIND HIM, SING KUM-BAA-YAA’S OF GRATITUDE.
3. THE PROBLEMS WITH THIS ANALYSIS ARE THAT ANY, REPEAT ANY PRESIDENT FACED WITH THIS WORLD WAR TWO-GREAT DEPRRESSION-1918 FLU PANDEMIC WOULD BE DOING EVERYTHING HE IS DOING AT LEAST AS MUCH AND PROBABLY MUCH MORE. HE IS MUCH CLOSER TO HERBERT HOOVER OR OR JAMES BUCHANAN THAN TO EVEN GW BUSH WITH 9.11 MUCH LESS ROOSEVELT.
4. TRUMP’S DIE-HARD SUPPORTERS AND THE UNINFORMED PUBLIC SEE HIM AS SOME SORT OF MACHO HERO: NOT SO. AS BIDEN SAID, HE DID NOT CAUSE THE VIRUS OR ENABLE IT (OF COURSE!), HE HAS JUST BEEN BEHIND THE CURVE SINCE DAY 1. THOUSANDS WILL ALREADY DIE BECAUSE OF HIS SLOW, SKEPTICAL EARLIER RESPONSE. THIS IS NOT “HUMAN ERROR” THIS IS CRIMINAL REPEAT CRIMINAL NEGLECT.
HIS RHETORIC HAS IMPROVED AND HE IS DEFINITELY “ON IT” COMPARED WITH A MONTH AGO. BUT THE DAMAGE HAS BEEN DONE. PRAISE GOD THAT HE IS FINALLY BEGINNING TO GET IT. OR IS IT? WE’LL SING TOGETHER IN CHURCH BY EASTER LOOKING BACK ON THIS THING IS SERIOUS MISINFORMATION. IT IS FANTASY. IT IS KILLING PEOPLE. THIS IS ALREADY TRUMP’S KATRINA. BUT THIS IS NOT 2005. IT IS 2020. AN ELECTION YEAR. BYE-BYE MR, PRESIDENT. THE UKRAINE IMPEACHMENT WAS INDEED PEANUTS COMPARED TO THIS .
+Trump Hoping to See US Economy Reopened by Easter Amid Virus
By The Associated Press
March 24, 2020Updated 5:08 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON — With lives and the economy hanging in the balance, President Donald Trump said Tuesday he is hoping the United States will be reopened by Easter as he weighs how to relax nationwide social-distancing guidelines to put some workers back on the job during the coronavirus outbreak.
As many public health officials call for stricter — not looser — restrictions on public interactions, Trump said he was already looking toward easing the advisories that have sidelined workers, shuttered schools and led to a widespread economic slowdown.
“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said during a Fox News virtual town hall. Easter is just over two weeks away — Apr. 12.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full,” Trump said in a subsequent interview. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country.”
Health experts have made clear that unless Americans continue to dramatically limit social interaction — staying home from work and isolating themselves — the number of infections will overwhelm the health care system, as it has in parts of Italy, leading to many more deaths. While the worst outbreaks are concentrated in certain parts of the country, such as New York, experts warn that the highly infectious disease is certain to spread.
The U.S. is now more than a week into an unprecedented 15-day effort to encourage all Americans to drastically scale back their public activities. The guidelines, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are voluntary, but many state and local leaders have issued mandatory restrictions in line with, or even tighter than, those issued by the CDC.
On Monday, the U.S. saw its biggest jump yet in the death toll from the virus, with more than 650 American deaths now attributed to COVID-19. Trump’s comments come after dire warnings by officials in hard-hit areas. New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state’s hospital system will soon hit a breaking point — resulting in avoidable deaths — even with the restrictions already in place.
“I gave it two weeks,” Trump said during the town hall from the Rose Garden. He argued that tens of thousands of Americans die each year from the seasonal flu and in automobile accidents and “we don’t turn the country off.”
When the 15-day period ends next Monday, he said, “We’ll assess at that time and we’ll give it some more time if we need a little more time, but we need to open this country up.” He added, “We have to go back to work, much sooner than people thought.”
Trump’s Easter target was not immediately embraced by Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator for the White House task force, who indicated any move would have to be guided by data still being collected. She suggested that public health professionals could recommend a general easing, while pushing for local restrictions to remain in the hardest-hit areas.
Trump acknowledged that some want the guidance to continue, but claimed without providing evidence that keeping the guidance in place would lead to deaths from suicide and depression.
“I’m sure that we have doctors that would say, ‘Let’s keep it closed for two years,'” Trump said. “No, we got to get it open.”
He added, “This cure is worse than the problem.”
Trump’s reassessment comes as the White House is encouraging lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass a roughly $2 trillion stimulus package to ease the financial pain for Americans and hard-hit industries.
Trump’s enthusiasm for getting people back to work comes as he takes stock of the political toll the outbreak is taking. It sets up a potential conflict with medical professionals, including many within his government, who have called for more social restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, not fewer.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, did not appear at the virtual town hall, but Trump denied there were any tensions between the two men.
Lawmakers have suggested they’ll look to Fauci for guidance on when the restrictions should be lifted.
“I’m going to take my lead from Anthony Fauci,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., said on CNN. “That’s the person I trust, that’s the person Americans trust.
Fauci told WMAL radio in Washington on Tuesday that Trump has always heeded his recommendations.
“The president has listened to what I have said and to what the other people on the task force have said,” Fauci said. “When I have made recommendations he has taken them. He’s never countered or overridden me, the idea of just pitting one against the other is just not helpful.”
Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, told reporters Tuesday that “public health includes economic health.”
“That’s the key point. And it’s not either-or. It’s not either-or, and that’s why we’re taking a fresh look at it,” he said.
During a private conference call with roughly 30 conservative leaders on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence reinforced Trump’s eagerness to lift coronavirus-related work and travel restrictions “in a matter of weeks, not months.”
When pressed on a specific timeline for lifting restrictions, Pence said there would be no formal decisions made until the current 15-day period of social distancing was complete, according to a conference call participant who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the private discussion.
Pence told the group that accommodations would need to be made for the highest-risk populations if and when restrictions begin to be lifted.
Despite Trump’s rosy talk, other elements of the government were digging in for the long haul. Top defense and military leaders on Tuesday warned department personnel that the virus problems could extend for eight to 10 weeks, or even into the summer.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a Defense Department town hall meeting that restrictions could go into late May or June, possibly even July. He said there are a variety of models from other countries, so the exact length of the virus and necessary restrictions are not yet clear.
Associated Press writers Lita Baldor in Washington and Steve Peoples in New York contributed to this report.
WELL IT WAS OVER A LONG TIME AGO BUT HERE IS EVIDENCE OF THE DEATHBLOW. Shiels/ Progressive Future
It has taken a good deal longer than it should have, but Americans have now seen the con man behind the curtain.MARCH 13, 2020Peter WehnerContributing writer at The Atlantic and senior fellow at EPPCEnjoy unlimited access to The Atlantic for less than $1 per week.Sign inSubscribe Now
Editor’s Note:The Atlantic is making vital coverage of the coronavirus available to all readers. Find the collection here.
When, in January 2016, I wrote that despite being a lifelong Republican who worked in the previous three GOP administrations, I would never vote for Donald Trump, even though his administration would align much more with my policy views than a Hillary Clinton presidency would, a lot of my Republican friends were befuddled. How could I not vote for a person who checked far more of my policy boxes than his opponent?
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What I explained then, and what I have said many times since, is that Trump is fundamentally unfit—intellectually, morally, temperamentally, and psychologically—for office. For me, that is the paramount consideration in electing a president, in part because at some point it’s reasonable to expect that a president will face an unexpected crisis—and at that point, the president’s judgment and discernment, his character and leadership ability, will really matter.
“Mr. Trump has no desire to acquaint himself with most issues, let alone master them” is how I put it four years ago. “No major presidential candidate has ever been quite as disdainful of knowledge, as indifferent to facts, as untroubled by his benightedness.” I added this:
Mr. Trump’s virulent combination of ignorance, emotional instability, demagogy, solipsism and vindictiveness would do more than result in a failed presidency; it could very well lead to national catastrophe. The prospect of Donald Trump as commander in chief should send a chill down the spine of every American.
It took until the second half of Trump’s first term, but the crisis has arrived in the form of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s hard to name a president who has been as overwhelmed by a crisis as the coronavirus has overwhelmed Donald Trump.
To be sure, the president isn’t responsible for either the coronavirus or the disease it causes, COVID-19, and he couldn’t have stopped it from hitting our shores even if he had done everything right. Nor is it the case that the president hasn’t done anything right; in fact, his decision to implement a travel ban on China was prudent. And any narrative that attempts to pin all of the blame on Trump for the coronavirus is simply unfair. The temptation among the president’s critics to use the pandemic to get back at Trump for every bad thing he’s done should be resisted, and schadenfreude is never a good look.
That said, the president and his administration are responsible for grave, costly errors, most especially the epic manufacturing failures in diagnostic testing, the decision to test too few people, the delay in expanding testing to labs outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and problems in the supply chain. These mistakes have left us blind and badly behind the curve, and, for a few crucial weeks, they created a false sense of security. What we now know is that the coronavirus silently spread for several weeks, without us being aware of it and while we were doing nothing to stop it. Containment and mitigation efforts could have significantly slowed its spread at an early, critical point, but we frittered away that opportunity.
“They’ve simply lost time they can’t make up. You can’t get back six weeks of blindness,” Jeremy Konyndyk, who helped oversee the international response to Ebola during the Obama administration and is a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, told TheWashington Post. “To the extent that there’s someone to blame here, the blame is on poor, chaotic management from the White House and failure to acknowledge the big picture.”
Earlier this week, Anthony Fauci, the widely respected director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases whose reputation for honesty and integrity has been only enhanced during this crisis, admitted in congressional testimony that the United States is still not providing adequate testing for the coronavirus. “It is failing. Let’s admit it.” He added, “The idea of anybody getting [testing] easily, the way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that. I think it should be, but we’re not.”
But that’s not all. The president reportedly ignored early warnings of the severity of the virus and grew angry at a CDC official who in February warned that an outbreak was inevitable. The Trump administration dismantled the National Security Council’s global-health office, whose purpose was to address global pandemics; we’re now paying the price for that. “We worked very well with that office,” Fauci told Congress. “It would be nice if the office was still there.” We may face a shortage of ventilators and medical supplies, and hospitals may soon be overwhelmed, certainly if the number of coronavirus cases increases at a rate anything like that in countries such as Italy. (This would cause not only needless coronavirus-related deaths, but deaths from those suffering from other ailments who won’t have ready access to hospital care.)
Some of these mistakes are less serious and more understandable than others. One has to take into account that in government, when people are forced to make important decisions based on incomplete information in a compressed period of time, things go wrong.
Yet in some respects, the avalanche of false information from the president has been most alarming of all. It’s been one rock slide after another, the likes of which we have never seen. Day after day after day he brazenly denied reality, in an effort to blunt the economic and political harm he faced. But Trump is in the process of discovering that he can’t spin or tweet his way out of a pandemic. There is no one who can do to the coronavirus what Attorney General William Barr did to the Mueller report: lie about it and get away with it.
The president’s misinformation and mendacity about the coronavirus are head-snapping. He claimed that it was contained in America when it was actually spreading. He claimed that we had “shut it down” when we had not. He claimed that testing was available when it wasn’t. He claimed that the coronavirus will one day disappear “like a miracle”; it won’t. He claimed that a vaccine would be available in months; Fauci says it will not be available for a year or more.
Trump falsely blamed the Obama administration for impeding coronavirus testing. He stated that the coronavirus first hit the United States later than it actually did. (He said that it was three weeks prior to the point at which he spoke; the actual figure was twice that.) The president claimed that the number of cases in Italy was getting “much better” when it was getting much worse. And in one of the more stunning statements an American president has ever made, Trump admitted that his preference was to keep a cruise ship off the California coast rather than allowing it to dock, because he wanted to keep the number of reported cases of the coronavirus artificially low.
“I like the numbers,” Trump said. “I would rather have the numbers stay where they are. But if they want to take them off, they’ll take them off. But if that happens, all of a sudden your 240 [cases] is obviously going to be a much higher number, and probably the 11 [deaths] will be a higher number too.” (Cooler heads prevailed, and over the president’s objections, the Grand Princess was allowed to dock at the Port of Oakland.)
On and on it goes.
To make matters worse, the president delivered an Oval Office address that was meant to reassure the nation and the markets but instead shook both. The president’s delivery was awkward and stilted; worse, at several points, the president, who decided to ad-lib the teleprompter speech, misstated his administration’s own policies, which the administration had to correct. Stock futures plunged even as the president was still delivering his speech. In his address, the president called for Americans to “unify together as one nation and one family,” despite having referred to Washington Governor Jay Inslee as a “snake” days before the speech and attacking Democrats the morning after it. As TheWashington Post’s Dan Balz put it, “Almost everything that could have gone wrong with the speech did go wrong.”
Taken together, this is a massive failure in leadership that stems from a massive defect in character. Trump is such a habitual liar that he is incapable of being honest, even when being honest would serve his interests. He is so impulsive, shortsighted, and undisciplined that he is unable to plan or even think beyond the moment. He is such a divisive and polarizing figure that he long ago lost the ability to unite the nation under any circumstances and for any cause. And he is so narcissistic and unreflective that he is completely incapable of learning from his mistakes. The president’s disordered personality makes him as ill-equipped to deal with a crisis as any president has ever been. With few exceptions, what Trump has said is not just useless; it is downright injurious.
The nation is recognizing this, treating him as a bystander “as school superintendents, sports commissioners, college presidents, governors and business owners across the country take it upon themselves to shut down much of American life without clear guidance from the president,” in the words of Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman of TheNew York Times.
Donald Trump is shrinking before our eyes.
The coronavirus is quite likely to be the Trump presidency’s inflection point, when everything changed, when the bluster and ignorance and shallowness of America’s 45th president became undeniable, an empirical reality, as indisputable as the laws of science or a mathematical equation.
It has taken a good deal longer than it should have, but Americans have now seen the con man behind the curtain. The president, enraged for having been unmasked, will become more desperate, more embittered, more unhinged. He knows nothing will be the same. His administration may stagger on, but it will be only a hollow shell. The Trump presidency is over.
It seems much more important to get the details on men behaving badly if you are: A. a Democrat B. Weathly. Being a Republican, say Trump, should apparently, just be overlooked
as Trump being Trump. Not that there is any excuse for sexual harassment or unhealthy workplace behavior. It’s just that if the Democrats hold their aides to higher standards it will increase the chances of reelection of Trump. But perhaps ethical purity is most important. It is a really complex problem reflecting fast changing/improving social standards. It may boil down in this One Case to accepting apologies with the idea that we all learn something and the “look the other way”
The vice presidency—likened to a “warm bucket of piss” by John Nance Garner, who suffered eight years in the office under FDR, and called a political dead end by others—has miraculously become Washington’s second most desirable job.
It’s not that the job has changed. What’s given the vice presidency a new sheen is the advanced age of four leading contenders for the presidency—Donald Trump, 73; Bernie Sanders, 78; Mike Bloomberg, 78; and Joe Biden, 77. None of the four amigos are likely to croak tomorrow, but the actuarial odds are bending against them. One scholar on aging reports that Trump has an 84.8 percent chance of surviving a 2020 term, while Sanders, Bloomberg and Biden rate several percentage points worse.
Lest you think I’m being ageist for harping on the candidates’, um, advanced maturity and general health, let me point out that they’re currently slicing each other up on the topic. On Wednesday, a Sanders spokesman fended off questions about her candidate’s health cast aspersion on Bloomberg health. She claimed he had had multiple heart attacks in the past. Not so, the Bloomberg campaign responded, explaining the Mike has never had a heart attack but he does have three heart stents. This language in this column may strike you as morbid but it’s no more morbid than what the campaigns are saying about one another.
If the Democratic Party is paying attention to this actuarial action—and I think it is—their next veep nominee won’t be another no-name ticket balancer picked to satisfy the geographic, gender, and ethnicity needs of the ticket. Rather, he (or she) will be selected based on the understanding that he stands a higher statistical chance completing the term of the presidential nominee than veeps before him. Instead of nominating one prospective president, the Democrats especially will effectively be nominating two. In the absence of a crystal ball, there’s no way to determine whether the winning candidate will survive his term. But it shouldn’t take a crystal ball to see that the advanced ages of these candidate should be a major campaign issue.
Of course, any president, no matter his age, could drop dead tomorrow. In 1961, writer Clare Booth Luce asked Lyndon Baines Johnson why he had surrendered his powerful position as Senate majority leader to become John F. Kennedy’s veep. “Clare, I looked it up: one out of every four presidents has died in office. I’m a gamblin’ man, darlin’, and this is the only chance I got,” he answered. Johnson was a little off—at the time, one in five presidents had died in office (four from natural causes and three from assassination). But he was also operating on the forbidden knowledge that Kennedy was a sick man who required heavy medication.
Consider the shaky grip the current frontrunners have on life. Sanders had an onstage heart attack last fall and has failed on his promise to release all of his medical records. Trump, the oldest president ever elected to a first term, is clinically obese, walks with a heavy gait, reportedly sleeps only 4-5 hours per night, looks terrible and plays similar games with his medical records. And then there’s that suspicious unplanned visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center he took in November. If Trump were to expire tomorrow in his golf cart, who would be astonished? Joe Biden projects more physical vigor than either Sanders or Trump, but his brain was marbled by two life-threatening aneurysms in 1988, requiring a microsurgical craniotomy. Only Bloomberg exhibits both physically and mentally vital, but at his age—and even with his billions—how long can he hold that pose?
The best historical parallel to 2020 might be 1944, when a frail Franklin Roosevelt prepared to run for his fourth term. Roosevelt had come to doubt that his existing vice president, Henry Wallace, would make a good successor in the likely event that he died. So he dumped Wallace for Harry S Truman. One day, Truman was drowning in the warm bucket of piss. The next, he was floating in a presidential sea of ambrosia. The 2008 election provided another example when the veep slot was more prize than consolation. At age 72, John McCain was older than any newly elected president, and was not a healthy man. Mindful that his war-time injuries and history of melanoma might conspire to prevent him from completing his first term, McCain reached down a full generation to select the youthful Sarah Palin, then 44, as his running mate. If Democrats follow that template, you can expect somebody like Stacy Abrams, a relative youngster at 46, to fill the ticket this year.
It should go without saying that the vice presidency will return to its low status if the Democrats nominate a young presidential candidate like Pete Buttigieg, 38, this year. Buttigieg has only a minuscule chance of dying in office, which could be career-ender for anybody who might run and win with him. At the end of Buttigieg’s two hypothetical terms, his veep would be stale political bread with little chance of winning the next presidential contest. History is quite consistent on this point: Since passage of the 12th Amendment, only two vice presidents—Martin Van Buren and George H.W. Bush—have been elected president immediately following the completion of their vice presidential terms. (Richard Nixon lost in 1960, but won the office eight years after his vice presidency concluded.)
The four elderly amigos can’t take sole credit for making the vice presidency potentially great again. You’ve got to tip the hat to Trump, whose erratic behavior nearly activated the 25th Amendment in May 2017. In pre-Trumpian times, the amendment—which allows the vice president to become the acting president should the president be ruled unable to “discharge the powers and duties of his office”—was used sparingly. It was invoked during Ronald Reagan’s colon surgery and George W. Bush’s colonoscopies. But nobody contemplated using it on a sitting president until Trump started acting nutty and fired FBI Director James Comey. Although nothing came of it, administration aides reportedly worked behind his back to activate the amendment and replace him with Mike Pence as acting president.
Should we elect a geezer president in 2020—something that looks more likely with every passing day—we can expect his aides to interpret the victor’s every behavior for signs of physical disability or mental breakdown. Meanwhile, in a separate room, we can expect the once lowly veep to patiently await his promotion by death.
As an aged candidate and incumbent, Trump could have easily shopped for a “better” veep than Mike Pence for 2020. By better I mean younger and more accomplished. Instead, Trump again bestowed the slot upon the slavishly loyal 60-year-old Pence. This indicates Trump has no intention of dying. Neither do I. Send longevity hints via mail to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts and my Twitter feed would make a great ticket. My RSS feed remains in exile.
WASHINGTON — In an email a few days ago to the 270 lawyers he oversees, Nicola T. Hanna, the United States attorney in Los Angeles, offered a message of reassurance: I am proud of the work you do, he wrote.
Other U.S. attorneys in the Justice Department’s far-flung 93 field offices relayed similar messages of encouragement after President Trump’s efforts to influence a politically fraught case provoked the kind of consternation the department has rarely seen since the Watergate era. “All I have to say,” another United States attorney wrote to his staff, “is keep doing the right things for the right reasons.”
But the fact that the department’s 10,000-odd lawyers needed reassurances seemed like cause for worry all by itself.
In more than three dozen interviews in recent days, lawyers across the federal government’s legal establishment wondered aloud whether Mr. Trump was undermining the Justice Department’s treasured reputation for upholding the law without favor or political bias — and whether Attorney General William P. Barr was able or willing to protect it.
Mr. Trump elicited those fears by denouncing federal prosecutors who had recommended a prison sentence of up to nine years for his longtime friend and political adviser Roger J. Stone Jr. Mr. Barr fanned them by scrapping the recommendation in favor of a far more lenient one, leading the prosecutors to quit the case in protest.
Mr. Barr then took to national television to complain that Mr. Trump’s angry tweets were undermining him and his department’s credibility — a sign to some current and former lawyers that the department’s freedom from political influence is in imminent danger. Their worries are compounded by the fact that people in Mr. Trump’s circle have been mired in so many criminal or ethical scandals that practically any legal action on those cases could be seen through a political lens.
As many of the department lawyers and some recently departed colleagues see it, Mr. Barr has devoted much of his authority and stature to bolster the president since he took office a year ago.
In ever stronger terms, he has attacked the F.B.I.’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. He has said it was mounted on “the thinnest of suspicions” and advanced despite a lack of evidence. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, ultimately found insufficient evidence that the president or his advisers engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia but documented their openness to Moscow’s sabotage effort.
While he has pledged that the department will not pursue politically motivated investigations, Mr. Barr said this month that he had created an “intake process” for the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to forward supposed proof of misconduct in Ukraine. Mr. Giuliani has claimed to have evidence damaging to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son.
Meanwhile, Mr. Barr’s expansive view of presidential authority has helped Mr. Trump fight off congressional oversight. It was the Justice Department, for instance, that decided it was unnecessary to give Congress the whistle-blower complaint that ultimately led to the president’s impeachment.
Mr. Barr’s critics say those and other moves have all but invited increasingly aggressive demands from the White House. His supporters in the Justice Department counter that he has used his political capital to protect the department and national security interests. But they sound increasingly worried about whether he will be able to manage the expectations of an ever more volatile president.
Mr. Barr’s effort this week to scale back those expectations, officials said, was born of necessity. He is said to have told the president privately that he will not open politically inspired inquiries on Mr. Trump’s behalf and that the president’s public comments about specific criminal cases are damaging the department’s work.
When the president’s public outburst over the prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation for Mr. Stone made it clear that Mr. Barr’s message had not sunk in, Mr. Barr and a few trusted advisers elected to deliver it again in a way that has repeatedly proved effective in grabbing the president’s attention: on television, this time in a nationally broadcast interview with ABC News.
By the end of the week, many at the Justice Department’s headquarters were uncertain whether that interview would resolve what some called an increasingly untenable situation. Some steeled themselves for a stream of presidential invective or even Mr. Barr’s departure in response.
In the legal trenches where the department’s lawyers handle controversial cases on a daily basis, some expressed relief that Mr. Barr had defended the department and tried to set boundaries for a president seemingly intent on erasing the red line between political motivations and individual criminal cases that has prevailed since Watergate.
“Thank God,” one lawyer said. “I was beginning to be really upset over the sentencing, but I really admire that he told Trump to shut up,” said another. A third wrote in a memo: “Barr was EXACTLY right.”
But others questioned Mr. Barr’s sincerity, saying he was already too closely aligned with Mr. Trump’s political priorities to accept his words at face value.
One described Mr. Barr’s timing as self-serving, saying that the president had attacked the department before but Mr. Barr spoke up only when he felt his own credibility was on the line. Another suggested that the best way for Mr. Barr to demonstrate his integrity would be to resign.
All spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists, or for fear of job repercussions. A spokeswoman for Mr. Barr declined to comment.
The supervisor of one team of prosecutors questioned whether the Stone case portended a presidential crusade to use the department’s legal powers to damage his political enemies and help his friends. Is it “a one-off or a trend?” another supervisor in a different office asked.
Some former senior officials predicted that government lawyers, especially those with politically sensitive cases, would face new skepticism in court about the department’s motivations.
“I’m sure that some D.O.J. attorneys feel that judges are not going to look at them in the same way,” said Mary McCord, a former assistant attorney general for the department’s national security division. “And I’m sure there are judges who are going to wonder, ‘Can we credit what you say, or is D.O.J. going to come back tomorrow and say something different?’”
Generally, lawyers across the department’s vast legal apparatus said they were simply trying to ignore the political drama unfolding in Washington and concentrate on their own work.
In the capital, the Justice Department has been grappling with Mr. Trump’s tweets almost since he took office. Amazon is suing the government over its loss of a $10 billion defense contract, saying Mr. Trump’s tweets prove his animosity toward its owner, Jeff Bezos. A team of Justice Department lawyers moved to withdraw from a case over the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census after Mr. Trump blindsided them by declaring on Twitter that their assertions in court were “fake.”
Until last spring, the impact of Mr. Trump’s outbursts about criminal prosecutions were blunted somewhat by the fact that he largely aimed them at Mr. Mueller, whose stature with Congress and the public made it unlikely he would be fired.
Even then, Mr. Trump or his legal team hinted broadly at the prospect of pardons for some associates who faced criminal charges brought by the Mueller team. And Mr. Trump publicly praised one defendant, his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, even as a federal jury deliberated whether to convict him on financial fraud charges.
But United States attorneys lack the political buffer that Mr. Mueller enjoyed. So Mr. Trump’s attacks on the career prosecutors in Mr. Stone’s case carry different weight.
In his interview with ABC News, Mr. Barr seemed concerned about the possibility of more mass defections. Three prosecutors withdrew from the Stone case while the fourth resigned from the department entirely the week before Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Federal District Court in the District of Columbia was scheduled to sentence Mr. Stone.
“I hope there are no more resignations,” Mr. Barr said. “We, we like our prosecutors and hope they stay.”
As Mr. Trump has pointed out on Twitter, two of those prosecutors — Aaron Zelinsky and Adam C. Jed — helped carry out the special counsel’s investigation, which Mr. Trump detested. Their supervisors reassured them this week that they would suffer no retaliation for withdrawing from the Stone case.
Timothy J. Shea, a close ally of Mr. Barr’s who took over this month as interim U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, sent his staff an email of support this week. “While there are times where reasonable minds may disagree, I respect the work that each of you do, and I will do my best to support our work,” he wrote.
Mr. Shea’s role is especially fraught because the Washington office, the largest in the country with 300 lawyers, often handles politically sensitive cases and inherited several prosecutions begun under Mr. Mueller. At least some in that office privately complained that Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr both treated Mr. Shea’s predecessor, Jessie K. Liu, shabbily.
Ms. Liu, a Trump appointee, was viewed in the office as a leader who helped protect prosecutors from political meddling. But her relationship with other department officials grew strained, especially after she decided there was insufficient evidence to seek an indictment of Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy director of the F.B.I. and a frequent target of the president, according to two people familiar with the situation.
She was nominated for a top job at the Treasury Department and transferred there this month to await her confirmation. Then this week, the president decided to rescind her nomination, even over Mr. Barr’s objections, according to three people familiar with the discussions.
The House of Representatives voted Thursday morning in a 232-196 vote to proceed with the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump. In her remarks on the House floor, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was sober and reflective. “I doubt anybody in this place, or anybody that you know, comes to Congress to take the oath of office to impeach the President of the United States unless his actions are jeopardizing honoring our oath of office.”
The chairmen leading the inquiry were equally reflective. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said, “The task before us is a solemn one.” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler was resolute, saying, “I support the resolution because we have no choice.” In concluding the debate, House Rules Chair Jim McGovern said, “History is testing us and I worry, based on what we have heard from the other side, that some may be failing that test.”
Halloween — when the doors open to spirits. Perhaps the ghosts of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Franklin, and Lincoln will pay a visit to the orange guy tonight, ala Ebenezer Scrooge. Maybe they can “teach” him something about democracy, honesty and integrity where everyone else has failed.ReplyRecommend28Recommended
I wonder if the boos and “lock him ups” of Game 5 called up those ghosts of United States Past, allowing the Nats could head back to Houston and beat the ‘Stros twice more to win the WS :)ReplyRecommend9Recommended
Kevin McCarthy also got illegal campaign money from Rudy Guiliani’s 2 Kremlin linked thugs Lev and Igor. The entire GOP, like Trump are up to their eyeballs in Russian mob money and they are shitting themselves that if Agent Orange gets taken down, he will take all of them with him. Its also why they refuse to defend the country from the traitor in the white house because they are complicit in the treason.ReplyRecommend47Recommended
Actually later is better. Let the investigations continue on well into next year (there’s plenty to investigate!), with a steady stream of incriminating revelations along the way.
Once the impeachment gets to the Senate, Moscow McCocaine will acquit the Putin-Pleasin’ Treason-Weasel Tangerine Rage-Baby in 10 minutes. They will claim Total Exoneration: Partisan Witch Hunt! And sweep all of it under the rug.
Better we keep the atrocities front and center all the way to the elections next year (or close to), to keep these criminals fresh in the voter’s minds. No on is going to be removed via the impeachment process. We are going to have to vote the rat-fuckers out.ReplyRecommend6Recommended
I used to agree with you 100%. I am wavering from that position now. This wavering is due to two related factors. First I have allowed hope that the senate might actually convict if the public opinion turns enough to seep in. The second is because he whom to be compared to is always an insult to that which he is compared (rat, piece of shit, crotch rot, ….whatever) is a cornered animal at this point and is only going to behave worse as the impeachment process goes on. There is nothing this malignant narcissist / sociopath will not do if he thinks it will distract or deflect. He will keep committing more damage to the country and the world as long as he is in office. We need to get him out ASAP and then follow up with endless stream of criminal prosecutions for the innumerable crimesReplyRecommend1Recommended
It is kind of appropriate for Hallow’s Eve — the gate to Hell is more open than usual, and the ancestors are closer — I hope Nixon and crew are coming back to drag the Rethugs down. The Dems recognize the solemnity and the Rethugs cry “not fair!” as if they were on the school grounds and had gotten caught bullying… ReplyRecommend26Recommended
It’s utterly pathetic the GOP cannot even CONCEIVE of this as being anything more than naked partisanship. They see everything through the lens of corruption and crime.
They know damn well that their impeachment of Clinton was nothing but a hatchet job to get the Democrat and they are so blinded by their corruption they cannot see the obvious crimes of Trump. Rather, they see the crimes but don’t care. They think the law should apply only to Democrats.
They are a disgrace to their oaths and a disgrace to America.ReplyRecommend49Recommended
Indeed. I just saw a scary Halloween monster when I turned on C-SPAN and Gym “See No Evil” Jordan was speaking. I immediately turned it off. That’s too scary even for Halloween.ReplyRecommend3Recommended
Peterson absolutely gets a pass on absolutely everything. Trump carried his district by 31 points. Anyone who calls for a primary against him is acting against our interests.
Van Drew’s district isn’t quite so bad in terms of statistical margins — Trump only carried it by 5 points — but the Republicans there are so rabid that even though their nominee against Van Drew was so horrible that the Republican Party disowned the guy Van Drew only won by 6 points. He is a prime target for the Republicans.
I suspect Nancy told both of them to do what they needed to do. ReplyRecommend29Recommended
Sorry, not sorry. If Peterson can’t muster up enough courage to do the right thing for his country on this, he doesn’t deserve to be there. This isn’t, and shouldn’t be about party, or keeping his job. This is about his primary responsibility – putting the country above all else. Obviously, he is not up to the task or his oath of office. He needs to go.ReplyRecommend3Recommended
Katie was staying for this vote, as the smartest, hardest-working and more effective member of the freshman class, bound for stardom which apparently some vindictive men didn’t like. She’s supposed to be making her farewell speech today. Am I pissed that instead of defending the bullying and harassment that drove her out of Congress, a lot of progressives are blaming her, usually pointing to the one part of the story that is unproven? You bet!ReplyRecommend10Recommended
Per Politics1, the four absentees were Donald McEachin (D-VA) (serious health issues), Jody Hice (R-GA) (father died), William Timmons (R-SC) (reservist on active duty), and John Rose (R-TN) (unknown).ReplyRecommend3Recommended
Gabbard missed all three votes on Turkey although she has recently been blistering in her attacks on Erdogan. That puts her barely ahead of Omar, who seems to have become a Turkish asset. :(ReplyRecommend2Recommended