In this edition: Behind the Democrats' coronavirus hardball, how Bernie Sanders won the Democrats' (geographically) biggest primary, and polling that explains everything.

You don't realize how many generic Italian Seasoning shakers you own until you're quarantined, and this is The Trailer.

When he laid off three employees at Knack Factory, his video production company, Alex Steed became the face of the coronavirus's economic damage in Maine. The Portland Press-Herald, Steed's local newspaper, used a picture of him at a mostly empty table to illustrate how Mainers were coping. 

But when Republican Sen. Susan Collins tweeted the story, to share her own plan to “protect small businesses,” Steed, 36, let his home-state senator have it.

Collins “has no right being sanctimonious today,” Steed tweeted. “She was eager to just hand Trump a half-trillion in unchecked funds.” 

Republicans had presented the coronavirus stimulus package, Congress's only political priority of the moment, as must-pass legislation. Democrats would reap the consequences, they warned, if relief got delayed by partisan politics.

Yet Democrats did delay the stimulus package, urged on by a base that believes the worst about the president and his party and has been willing to endure short-term pain and economic losses.

“I just don’t trust these people to make a decision that’s in our best interest,” Steed, who was not a Collins supporter before the crisis, said in an interview. “Every time Collins gets sanctimonious, it becomes evident in the long run that she was hiding something.”

That skepticism were echoed not just by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who sees the crisis as a reason to restructure the economy, but by former vice president Joe Biden, who used his first public remarks in days to attack the $500 billion bailout fund that Republicans demanded in the stimulus, one that initially would be run by the administration with no transparency until November. That fund was the focus of Democratic opposition, the sticking point in negotiations that continued into Tuesday.

“President Trump and Mitch McConnell were offering a plan to let big corporations off the hook,” Biden said Monday, from his new home studio in Delaware. “They proposed a $500 billion slush fund for corporations with almost no conditions.”

Biden was taking his cues from congressional Democrats, from the House members who passed their own bill before leaving for recess and the senators who surprised Republicans by denying a single vote to the McConnell-backed package. The initial plan, to push through a bill by the time markets opened Monday, could not even pull Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who often breaks with his party, to the “aye” side.

Republicans responded with public shaming, pointing to the more irrelevant-looking parts of the Democrats' package (like $35 million to bail out the Kennedy Center) and associating Biden's party with any death and economic decay that occurred as the stimulus was delayed.

“This is the kind of political game that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are playing while another 125 people just died overnight in New York City,” Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said in a Tuesday interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt. “It is disgraceful, and it has to stop today.”

Democrats were listening less to people like Cotton than to skeptical constituents and labor leaders. With few exceptions, the people who represented workers holding out for relief argued that they needed something sustainable and fair, not passed quickly. 

They're helped by some muddled, overlapping messaging from the White House and business leaders, who have argued both that a stimulus is needed right now and that workers could return to business within weeks. On Tuesday, investors were encouraged enough by progress on the bill — negotiations that Republicans initially described as calamitous for the economy — to push the Dow Jones index up by 10 percent. That has emboldened those on the left who want to demand as much as possible in the bill and worry that passing it without strings would enrich business at the expense of workers.

“After 9/11 we lost 20 percent of our workforce. Next month, we are staring down a loss of 70 percent,” said Sara Nelson, the president of the International Association of Flight Attendants and an active voice on the left. “There’s never been anything as significant as this in our lifetimes, and if it takes 24 hours to fix this, it’s worth it to stand our ground. It’s strange to see people fighting so hard to give $500 billion to a few executives and keep it secret.”

Two previous crises explain the Democrats' resistance to going along with Trump. The first is the response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which splintered the out-of-power Democrats and boosted the president. George W. Bush saw an immediate 35-point spike in his approval rating, with voters approving of his response by a 3-to-1 margin. Trump's approval rating has inched up since the start of the pandemic but remains in the 40s; polling has found the country split on his response, with support between 50 and 60 percent. Those are not levels high enough to induce immediate Democratic panic.

The second defining crisis was the 2008 economic crash and the 2009 fight over a stimulus package. As the worst of the recession bit down, and with President Barack Obama's approval rating in the 60s, Republicans made a bet on resistance, giving the relief bill three votes in the Senate and none in the House. Democrats assumed that the GOP would suffer for opposing, among other things, a payroll tax cut that gave average Americans $1,000, and an infrastructure package that enjoyed majority support in polls.

Instead, Republicans turned opposition to the stimulus into a plank of their 2010 campaign and won a landslide. They've dusted off some of the tools from that fight, like pinpointing the least-serious-sounding things Democrats want to pay for as part of their coronavirus package, as Cotton did by referring to the Kennedy Center funding in the House bill. But the long-term lesson was that the president's party takes the blame for any economic slowdown and that there is little price to pay for opposing him or taking harder stances in negotiations. But there has been a political price for rushing to support a president of the opposite party.

“A lot of our politics come from the Iraq War, where the administration said that something had to be done and a lot of Democrats followed,” said Faiz Shakir, Sanders's campaign manager, who has put together a series of virtual town halls in which the candidate has lacerated the Trump administration and called for trillions of dollars in permanent relief. “They utilize the fear tactic all the time. I'm not worried about Democrats getting blamed because they didn't support a corporate bailout fast enough. I'm worried about people getting behind solutions that are not adequate for solving the crisis.”

Democrats are not in total agreement about those solutions; Sanders's decision to keep running against Biden shows as much. But they have been getting more aggressive in negotiations, as their campaign organizations continue to attack the president. The Trump campaign and its allies have portrayed Biden as a come-lately politician who could not fix the crisis, focusing on his criticism of the president's initial restrictions on travel by Chinese nationals. As often happens in a crisis, they have also accused Democrats of “politicizing” the response, instead of uniting behind the president, as Louisiana Attorney Gen. Jeff Landry did when Biden called on the Trump administration to drop a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act.

Joe Biden is attempting to play politics right in the middle of a pandemic,” Landry said in a statement.

But the effort to overturn the 2010 health-care law is unpopular. Democrats, for the moment, are trying to respond to the pandemic in ways that will bolster their 2020 campaign. American Bridge PAC has already released digital advertising that blames Trump for a slow response to the pandemic. The group's president, Bradley Beychok, said that voters would have time to sort out the origins of the crisis and its response, and Democrats would benefit so long as they did not give Republicans what they wanted.

“We're all facing the same crisis, but we're not going to leave it to the people who were unprepared for the crisis to set the terms of recovery,” Beychok said. “Are they really saying: Give us a slush fund, and trust us to run it adequately? … Democrats shouldn't back down.” 

Reading list

The campaign when there's no campaigning.

Remember when the election was going to be about impeachment?

Getting ahead of worries about in-person voting.

Can 4,000 delegates fit onto a Zoom call?

How to introduce yourself to neighbors as they're locked behind their doors.

On the trail

Bernie Sanders triumphed in one of the most unusual contests on the Democratic calendar: the Democrats Abroad primary, which gives American expatriates the chance to participate in a week-long vote. On Monday, Democrats Abroad announced a clear win for Sanders, who picked up 23,139 of the 39,984 votes cast; Joe Biden won just 9,059 votes.

The eagle-eyed reader will notice that nearly one in five Democrats Abroad voters picked someone else. That’s because this was the last of the primary contests with votes from Super Tuesday, 21 days ago. Elizabeth Warren won 5,730 votes, by far the most of any candidate who has since suspended their campaign and just 250 votes short of the 15 percent threshold that would have nabbed her a delegate. Sanders’s margin got him nine of the primary’s 13 delegates, continuing his unusual post-Super Tuesday streak of wins in places with relatively few voters — North Dakota, the Northern Mariana Islands and now the world of expats.

Still, as in North Dakota, turnout was up from 2016. Sanders won fewer votes than he did in that primary, and Biden ran 1,000 votes behind Hillary Clinton. But thanks to DNC delegate rules, the 9-to-4 delegate split was identical to the result four years ago.

Ad watch

Donald Trump, “Pelosi Playing Politics.” The president’s reelection campaign has piled scorn on Joe Biden, but this digital spot is their first effort at cohering Republican messaging on the stimulus package: that Democrats are making too many dilatory demands. The money for the Kennedy Center, a mainstay of GOP attacks, is in here, as are “emissions standards and carbon offset requirements for airlines” and pension protections for community news reporters. “Democrats don’t care about your health or the economy.” 

Poll watch

Has this institution done a good or bad job responding to covid-19? (Monmouth, 851 adults)

Your state's governor
Good: 72%
Bad: 18%

Federal health officials
Good: 65%
Bad: 24%

The president
Good: 50%
Bad: 45%

Good: 42%
Bad: 37%

The media
Good: 45%
Bad: 43%

Good: 38%
Bad: 45%

That’s right: When asked who is doing the least to get America through the coronavirus pandemic, voters pointed to themselves. Every other institution gets at least a passing grade, though the gap between approval of governors and health officials, and approval of the president, is striking. As Monmouth’s Patrick Murray points out, previous crises have seen double-digit surges of support for presidents. In this crisis, the president’s approval rating ticked up two points, thanks to a small reduction in the number of Democrats who rate him poorly.

In the states

The slow-motion retrenchment of primary states continued when Rhode Island and Delaware pushed their contest from April 28 to June 2, becoming the third and fourth states to make that same calendar adjustment. Connecticut and Maryland had already delayed by the same five weeks. And Pennsylvania’s legislature is moving toward making an identical change.

That has reduced the April 28 primary map to just New York, where elected Democrats have pushed for the state to officially allow no-excuse absentee voting. New York also doesn't allow in-person early voting. That leaves it up to legislators whether to mail ballots to all voters, as Oregon and Washington already do. And Democrats are trying to push for mail ballots as part of the coronavirus stimulus package

So far the transition has been easier in states where the parties, not election officials, are running the primaries. In the past few days, Democrats in Alaska, Hawaii, and Wyoming canceled in-person voting for their April 4 primaries, sending ballots instead to all registered Democrats. In Alaska, the party has pushed the deadline for returned ballots to April 10, delaying by a week their announcement of the winner; in Wyoming, it has been pushed an extra week, to April 17.

Candidate tracker

After a week of bipartisan taunts, Joe Biden has begun to make use of a new in-house studio, following his Monday address on coronavirus with a remote interview on “The View.” On air, he combined some minor news-making (there were “10 or 12” women in the mix for vice president) and continued support for the congressional Democrats' stimulus negotiations with some continuing criticism of the president's public virus response.

“Listen to the scientists. Listen to the doctors. Listen to what they have to say,” Biden said. “I would respectfully say you should have Dr. Fauci on a lot more than you should the president.”

Biden also added to his list of labor endorsements, winning the support of AFSCME, which had endorsed Hillary Clinton early in the 2016 primary but stayed neutral through most of this one. 

Bernie Sanders, who had held online talks about the virus response for the better part of a week, relocated from Vermont to Washington,  and talked for six minutes with MSNBC's Chris Hayes, his first live TV interview since before the Michigan primary. His own campaign, he said, was taking it “day by day” and transitioning from in-person campaigning to volunteer digital organizing.

“We are in a bizarre moment,” Sanders said. “We're not doing rallies. We have an extraordinarily strong movement, tens of thousands of people, who have been knocking on doors. Guess what? They're not knocking on doors.”

Donald Trump, who held a lengthy news conference on Monday and a Fox News-hosted special on Tuesday, went further than Sanders in bemoaning the new reality forced upon candidates.

“I must tell you, as a politician, it's much warmer when you walk into a crowd and shake everybody's hands,” Trump told Fox anchor Bill Hemmer. “You're going to lose a lot of people to a flu, but you're going to lose more people by putting the country into a recession.” 

Dems in disarray

As of Tuesday, both Democrats and Republicans still planned to hold their party conventions. Democrats were set to go first, in July, right before the Olympics — which were just postponed until 2021. But the party's leaders and its likeliest nominee are continuing to talk about a convention going forward, making it virtual as only a last resort.

“I don't think it should be called off,” Biden said on Tuesday in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper.

There's another deadline to keep an eye on, one that could matter if the Sanders campaign does not win enough delegates to compete with Biden but focuses instead on changing the party platform. According to party rules, which were written when all voting was expected to be over June 6, the members of the platform committee were to be chosen by June 27. That's 95 days from now. In 2016, the platform committee met over two days in an Orlando hotel ballroom, with a large section for the public and the media. So long as social distancing orders are in effect, that couldn't happen again.


… 11 days until primaries in Alaska, Hawaii, and Wyoming
… 75 days until the cutoff for picking Democratic delegates
… 111 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 153 days until the Republican National Convention
… 223 days until the general election