In this edition: The president's on-again/off-again support for pandemic protests, an interview with the authors of “Bigger Than Bernie,” and caucus results from Wyoming.
Did the anti-vaccine protesters make new signs or did they recycle their signs from school board meetings? Either way, this is The Trailer.
The campaign to “liberate” states from coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions ramped up with a Fox News segment that mentioned Liberate Minnesota as a group organizing anti-quarantine protests. That probably inspired three tweets from President Trump, calling for the liberation of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia. And it convinced some protesters that the president was on their side.
But on Saturday evening, asked about rallies that violated social distance guidelines, Trump said he was “getting along very nicely with the governor of Michigan,” Gretchen Whitmer (D), but wished she had not added “all these crazy things” to stay-at-home orders; restrictions on some travel and gardening sales had been especially controversial. On a Trump campaign Web broadcast, conservative activist Charlie Kirk said that Whitmer had “gone so far beyond the CDC guidelines to institute the most draconian, nonsensical and unneighborly rules,” before pivoting to a topic that demanded more time: House Democrats' refusal to quickly fund more small-business grants without conditions.
The “reopen” protests, which have ranged from in-person gatherings of a few dozen to a few hundred people, were promoted by conservative media and local Republican Parties, echoing the tea party protests that helped polarize public opinion on the Obama administration’s economic policies 11 years ago. Those protests were initially designed to target both parties, at least rhetorically, while these protests have featured bold pro-Trump messaging.
But channeling populist anger into his own campaign, something Trump did instinctively and powerfully four years ago, is not coming as easily to a president whose reelection could depend on the speed of national recovery.
“I'm frustrated [and] I wish I had someone to protest,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of the Republicans who has faced anti-stay-at-home protests, said on CNN's “State of the Union” on Sunday. “But I don't think it's helpful to encourage demonstrations and encourage people to go against the president's own policy. [T]he president's policy says you can't start to reopen under his plan until you have declining numbers for 14 days, which those states, and my state, do not have.”
Trump campaign hats and flags have popped up at the events, and local Republican groups have helped organize and promote them. Alex Jones, a conspiracy-minded Trump supporter, helped organize a “You Can't Close America” rally in Texas; his website sells T-shirts that redesign the state's unofficial “Come and Take It” flag, replacing the Battle of Gonzales cannon with three rolls of toilet paper. Democrats, perpetually nervous about the president’s instincts, believe he might throw his weight behind an unpopular cause.
“These protests may be a crystallizing moment in this pandemic, but not in the way Trump thinks,” said Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2010 tea party backlash. “At the start, it wasn't clear that one party would position as combating this virus, and the other would position as supporting its spread. But these protesters have put Trump in exactly that position.”
The president has said little about individual states' policies, which are frequently operating on the same timeline as the White House — to be revisited at the end of April. Asked whether the Trump campaign supported any particular protests, a spokesman deferred to the president's comments. By Sunday afternoon, the president, reacting again to Fox News, would criticize only Democrats who worried about him moving too quickly to lift restrictions: “If I took even a little more time, they would loudly chant that I am moving too slowly.”
Fresh polling suggests that Trump's ability to shape opinion about the pandemic is limited. In the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 58 percent of registered voters said they were more worried about infections spiking if restrictions ended too quickly than about whether restrictions hurt the economy.
Fifty-six percent of these voters did not trust the president to share accurate information about the coronavirus. By a nine-point margin, 45 percent to 36 percent, more of them trusted Joe Biden to handle the pandemic than put their faith in Trump. When asked about public figures more generally, 60 percent of voters said they trusted NIAID director Anthony S. Fauci. Just 36 percent, again, said they trusted Trump.
The same polling that found a small uptick in support for the president last month has begun to find him falling back. Last month, the Gallup poll found Trump's approval rating rising to 49 percent, evidence of “a rally in public support.” Last week, Trump's approval rating declined to 43 percent.
That has happened even as the president has dominated near-daily briefings about the virus. Other countries' leaders, less omnipresent, have often fared better. Before he was hospitalized for covid-19, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made only weekly appearances at public briefings on the virus. He has seen a small but steady spike in his support, as has French President Emmanuel Macron, while Canada's Justin Trudeau and Germany's Angela Merkel enjoy support in the 70s.
Johnson won a landslide general election last year, while the parties of Macron, Trudeau and Merkel have been losing ground. Trump's numbers had returned to their pre-pandemic levels, despite plenty of speculation that he had forced Biden out of the headlines by taking charge of the briefings.
“Wait,” joked Biden spokesman Andrew Bates in a Sunday morning tweet about the NBC poll. “It’s possible for there to not be a direct relationship between how much a political strategy entertains Beltway reporters/ups their ratings and how much it has the desired impact on voters’ attitudes?”
When the protests began, many Democrats and Republicans thought first of the tea party movement, the last real effort, during an economic downturn, to get conservative activists in the streets. But Trump approached the tea party cautiously, too. He did not speak at one of its events until 2011, when he was exploring a presidential bid that he eventually decided against. “They’re great,” he said of the protests, “because they made Washington start thinking.” Still, he was interested in the activists' energy only after they'd become winners.
The president has spoken more confidently about the logistical response to the virus, the first issue that put him at odds with governors. His campaign has focused more on the Chinese government’s initial misinformation about the virus, more confident in that issue as a trap for Democrats. And Trump’s allies see an opportunity as the economy founders and House Democrats tussle with the administration over the contents of the next rescue package for businesses.
Newt Gingrich, who frequently spots issues for the president to use to his advantage, pointed to a potential opening: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's interview with a late-night host, in which the wealthy Democrat showed off the gourmet ice cream getting her through the crisis.
“Where is former Vice President Joe Biden?” Gingrich asked in a Fox News column. “Does he support the job-killing, ice cream-eating liberal Democrats?” Here was more immediacy, and fewer risks, than the social-distance-flouting protests.
“Rallies against stay-at-home orders grow as Trump sides with protesters,” by Toluse Olorunnipa, Shawn Boburg and Arelis R. Hernández
The president calls for “liberating” states, but from whom and by whom?
“Did gender keep Democratic women from winning the presidential primary?” by Danielle Kurtzleben
A deep look at worries about who was or was not electable in 2020.
How to win the presidency from a basement.
How to handle a conservative wing of your party that doesn't want to vote for the presidential nominee.
“Government is everywhere now. Where does it go next?” by Dan Balz
A post-pandemic state.
Skepticism, but also questions about what to believe.
“Trump campaign concludes there is more to be gained by attacking Biden than trying to promote president’s pandemic response,” by Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey, Annie Linskey, and Toluse Olorunnipa
The strategy of an uncertain moment.
Dems in disarray
Bernie Sanders ended his campaign for the presidency April 8, a few days before “Bigger Than Bernie” was supposed to hit shelves. The timing was, for the book’s authors, heartbreaking. Yet it also made their point.
Meagan Day and Micah Uetricht, socialist journalists for Jacobin who canvassed for the Sanders campaign, argue that the senator created a “brief window of political opportunity” for ideas that had spent decades out of the mainstream. They wrote the book when Sanders hovered near the top of the Democratic primary pack. It ran off the printers during Sanders's own window of opportunity, the weeks when he seemed to hold the advantage in a race crowded with more moderate candidates.
But the book itself, unusually for something with a politician's name on the cover, never imagined that a Sanders win would solve every problem. It starts with Sanders's own career, then quickly explains how other left-wing political figures had power taken away from them. (France's François Mitterrand bowed to capitalist pressure; Chile's Salvador Allende was ousted in a coup.) Day and Uetricht saw no future for Sanders-ism, even when the candidate was riding high, “without a rank-and-file revolution.” Unless socialists and workers organized themselves, “the kind of political revolution Bernie Sanders has talked so much about won't come to pass.”
Day and Uetricht spoke to The Trailer via Skype over the weekend, and this transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
THE TRAILER: Why did you write this book, and why now?
MICAH UETRICHT: I don't walk around desperate to write books, but I realized at one point that there was really not much out there, if anything, about Bernie after 2016. So I guess we wrote it with two principal audiences, maybe three, in mind. The first are people who are already in the socialist movement, because we offer a kind of agenda for where the socialist movement should go from here. The second one is “Berniecrat” types who got excited about the Bernie campaign but weren't necessarily involved in Democratic Socialists of America and didn't necessarily consider themselves activists. The third audience could be the people who want to understand what at least one wing of this newly reborn socialist movement in the United States thinks.
MEAGAN DAY: We tried to write a book that would be useful if Bernie Sanders lost the primary, or if Bernie Sanders won the primary and lost the general — which would have been very bad for our movement — or if Bernie Sanders won the primary and won the general, which would have been incredible all around. And so we tried to boil it down to basics, like how you should approach elections, in general, coming on the heels of this new explosion in socialist energy.
TT: What does that all mean now, at a moment when the campaign is shut down but a ton of people are out of work? How is this working under our current conditions?
MD: So, there's a new project called the Emergency Workers Organizing Committee, run jointly by the United Electrical Workers and the Democrat Socialists of America. It's intended to do really broad outreach to workers who don't have unions, who are having pandemic-related workplace issues. Most of the people who've been calling — and they've gotten like 700-plus calls at this point, probably more — are mostly people who are still working. They're essential workers and they're not being provided with adequate protection, or they're not getting hazard pay. Sometimes they want to actually shut down their workplaces and get paid to stay home, because they don't think that they're essential at all. These are people who wanted to organize, and they never would have been able to do it without this vast pool of dedicated new socialists. They became committed to the ideas of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and they didn't want to stop.
TT: How would this look had Sanders not run for president? Imagine if Elizabeth Warren had taken his advice in 2016 and run instead of him. What did he do that another left-wing insurgency couldn't have?
MU: There's a strong chance that Bernie's campaign will be viewed five years from now, 10 years from now, 30 years from now, as a pivot point in American politics, the same way that a campaign like Barry Goldwater's in 1964 is viewed. People gathered around the presidential campaign, and the candidate lost, but nobody would call it a failure, because we know it helped turn the Republican Party to the right. I would wager that we're going to look back on Bernie in a similar way as somebody who lost a presidential run, but he took previously fringe political ideas about socialism into the mainstream.
MD: Had Bernie not run, there would be no reborn DSA. Jacobin wouldn't be where it is. We wouldn't be talking about socialism right now, and we wouldn't have thousands or tens of thousands of socialists with organizing skills. Right now, Students for Bernie chapters on college campuses have not dissolved their infrastructure and are instead mounting pressure campaigns against their austerity-minded administrations, to get them to pay workers appropriately or otherwise provide worker protections. I would challenge you to imagine any other “Students for” some candidate ever doing that.
TT: Why did Sanders lose? What were the factors under his control that he didn't fix in time to win the nomination?
MD: There's too much emphasis on what the Bernie Sanders campaign did or didn't do, because it's natural, because we're used to thinking about politics in those terms. We're not usually talking about like macro-level structural features of our political system bumping up against each other and producing certain outcomes. In reality, what really happened here is that there was a structural test for the emerging left movement, and it was not strong enough to pass that test. But through the attempts to pass it, it became stronger. Do you know what single day MSNBC covered Bernie Sanders the most? It was the day after Super Tuesday, when the coverage was about him losing.
TT: How much of it do you put on media coverage? What's the way for someone like Sanders to win as long as political media is what it is?
MD: A lot of the kinds of people who vote in Democratic Party primaries are sort of older party loyalists who watch a lot of cable news, and they watch MSNBC and CNN in particular. They were at rapt attention during the impeachment proceedings, for example. It was like a prestige drama for them. During the Trump presidency, conservative faith in the media has collapsed, and liberal faith in the media has skyrocketed in a perfectly symmetrical way.
It's very funny and interesting to me that people who are to the right of Bernie think that his greatest failing is that he was too anti-establishment. If you could think of a more establishmentarian version of a Bernie Sanders campaign, you might produce Elizabeth Warren, and she obviously failed miserably. And I think we should just allow ourselves to be surprised by the fact that he got so far. I noticed a little chatter about how this is a referendum on the viability of our politics. Yeah, you're right. It is a referendum on the viability of our politics. Our politics were presumed to be completely unviable before this. And now we have information that that's not true.
TT: But something Sanders never overcame was the worry, for a lot of Democratic voters, that nominating a “democratic socialist” would throw the election to Trump. You write about the electoral success for socialists in Chicago and the Bay Area. Is that what needs to happen? More wins for the left in local races?
MU: I think what will help is people winning and the sky not falling. Some of that is just like the basic building of this movement that is still in its infancy. We reverse-engineered this whole movement. Rather than a vibrant socialist building local power, and then producing a presidential candidate, we saw that a president candidate could show up first and then a movement could be built based on that. So once that movement is matured and has a history of real successes, big policy successes and electoral successes, that will change a lot.
TT: There's a bit of a discussion right now about whether Sanders voters should just give up on Democrats and form a third party. You advise against that. Why?
MU: The reason that we're stuck with the Democrats is because the entire system is arrayed against third parties being able to emerge, like they do in other countries. It's not completely useless to run third party, sometimes. But in general, those efforts haven't produced the kind of transformative effects that Bernie's campaign produced. The Democratic Party ballot line mattered, even though Bernie did not join the party, because it meant this mass movement would get taken seriously. And in doing so, he exposed all of these really unsavory things about Democratic Party politics.
We need to be sober about what we're up against structurally. What that means is that third-party runs are almost certainly doomed to failure, in almost every political context. Engage the Democratic Party where it makes sense, but maintain a level of independence. Let them know that they are not your friends, that they will try to smash your progressive politics.
MD: When Bernie left the Liberty Union in the 1970s, he wrote a letter explaining that he quit because the party was not engaged in full-time political work. It was attempting to maintain a ballot line, and cultivating a candidate to run in elections every few years, and trying its hardest to get those percentage numbers up. Bernie was that candidate on several occasions, and he left, because he said the purpose of a party is to create the scenario in which the working class takes for itself what rightfully belongs to it.
Joe Biden easily won the vote-by-mail caucuses in Wyoming, one of the final states to hold a contest before Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign. The contest, originally scheduled for April 4, was kept open until April 17 so more mail ballots could roll in, a decision that allowed a total of 15,391 votes, or more than double the turnout for 2016's in-person caucuses.
As in most of this year's caucus-to-primary states, the new system was a blow to Sanders. He won just 3,680 first-preference votes, to 10,105 for Biden, the biggest rout of the primary and down from the 4,122 votes he'd won in 2016. As in Alaska, which also replaced its caucuses with a ranked-choice voting system, Sanders benefited as defeated candidates were struck from the count, their second-preference votes added to the total. But he benefited less than Biden, who ended the count with 807 extra votes; Sanders picked up just 526 votes.
This was the first contest with some votes cast after Sanders had ended his campaign, and the first to end after a grass-roots effort to get Sanders voters to mark their ballots. Getting 28 percent of the vote will help Sanders accrue at least four of Wyoming's 14 pledged delegates, but it marked a decline from 2016, when he grabbed 57 percent of the vote.
Joe Biden for President, “Unprepared.” The vast majority of the videos discussed in this space are designed for TV and last 30 to 60 seconds. This is a 103-second video that less-engaged voters might not ever see. But it might be the most important content Biden's team has released so far, suggesting the speed and attitude the candidate will use to punch back when Republicans take a swing.
The video is ostensibly a response to ads from Trump's campaign and the America First super PAC that accuse Biden of being too friendly toward China to take decisive action on the coronavirus. Here, a narrator warns that “Trump rolled over for the Chinese,” as clips play from the period when the president was saying, in tweets and news conferences, that China was keeping the outbreak under control. And the spot points out that the presidential “travel ban” on China did not stop some travel between the two countries.
“I spoke with President Xi, and they're working very hard, and I think it's going to work out fine,” the president says at one point.
The video has been controversial. Just weeks ago, liberals were pressuring the administration to stop calling the coronavirus a “Chinese virus.” Unusually, they were successful. That has led to some head-scratching over this video; a civil rights lawyer has accused Biden of “trying to out-Trump Trump,” while a reporter for the Intercept called the ad “racist.” Rather than challenging the Trump campaign's premise, Biden has decided to throw the president's own optimistic take on China against him. That bet looked sound Saturday, as Trump was asked why he had not criticized Xi, and he expressed reluctance to “embarrass leaders that I like.”
Are you worried that pandemic restrictions will be lifted too quickly? (Pew Research, 4,917 adults)
Lifted too quickly: 66%
Not lifted quickly enough: 32%
We don't have great data yet on how opinions of the pandemic response are shifting from state to state, with wide variances in infection rates and responses. But overall, by the middle of April, the Americans worrying more about the economy than pandemic restrictions were outnumbered. A slight majority of Republicans, 51 percent, are more worried that restrictions will be lifted too quickly, while a slight majority of conservatives, 53 percent, are more worried that restrictions won't be lifted quickly enough. But among most demographic groups, “don't lift them too quickly” wins in a rout. Especially interesting, given the ongoing protests, is how the question shakes out across different income brackets. While 55 percent of Republicans who report “lower” incomes are more worried about lifting restrictions too quickly, just 47 percent of “higher”-income Republicans say the same.
Do you trust what this person or agency says about the pandemic? (NBC News/WSJ, 900 registered voters)
Don't trust: 13%
Don't trust: 20%
Don't trust: 8%
Don't trust: 29%
Don't trust: 52%
The root of the president's political problem is exposed here: Three years and change into his presidency, he has not established himself as a trustworthy source of information for voters beyond his base. Biden suffers from voter confusion and distraction; by eight points, more Americans lack an opinion of Biden's statements during the crisis than lack one about New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's. But the president is viewed with markedly more skepticism than his vice president (just 37 percent of voters distrust Vice President Pence on the pandemic) and badly trails the CDC and NIH.
President Trump continued to hold briefings on the coronavirus while traditional campaigning remained on pause. On Saturday, after previously urging citizens to “liberate” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, states where Democratic governors have issued tough stay-at-home orders, Trump argued only that some states had gone overboard.
“Hopefully this will be over very soon for all of us,” he said. “But some have gotten carried away. They have absolutely gotten carried away.”
Joe Biden continued holding briefings from his campaign's video studio and told supporters at a weekend fundraiser that he could envision something like a new Works Progress Administration were he elected president amid a continuing economic crisis. On Sunday evening, he'll host a town hall for “live entertainment workers facing unemployment.”
What I’m watching
Believing Joe Biden. One week ago, The Washington Post and other major news outlets released the results of investigations into claims by a former Biden Senate staffer that the presumptive Democratic nominee had sexually assaulted her in 1993. An anonymous friend backed up Tara Reade's version of the story, but staffers with whom she had worked denied that she'd ever made a complaint, as Reade said she had.
The president's reelection campaign, rarely accused of caution or timidity, did not echo the accusation itself against Biden. Instead, key Republicans such as Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel focused on the media, asking whether Biden had gotten lighter treatment than conservatives accused of sexual assault. Elevating one accusation against Biden risked elevating the panoply of accusations against Trump; questioning whether the media was tougher on Republicans than on Democrats was safer.
At the same time, prominent Democratic women, many considered possible running mates for Biden, have started to get questions about the accusation. And the timing, which has kept reporters and politicians largely stuck at home, has helped Biden; there are no opportunities for members of Congress to be caught in the Capitol and respond without thinking.
An argument for Biden has emerged: This story was told, it was vetted, and there was no reason to doubt the Biden campaign's denial. On Tuesday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer set the tone.
“I think women should be able to tell their stories,” Whitmer told NPR. “I think that it is important that these allegations are vetted, from the media, to beyond. And I think that, you know, it is something that no one takes lightly. But it is also something that is, you know, personal.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was more direct, holding up the New York Times's story about Reade to say that any major concerns had been put to rest already.
“I think this case has been investigated,” Klobuchar told MSNBC on Thursday. “I know the vice president as a major leader on domestic abuse, I worked with him on that and I think, again, the viewers should read the article.”
On Sunday, the Daily Beast ran a comment from former Georgia legislator Stacey Abrams, who said it was important for women to be heard, and that Biden's reputation was secure.
“Allegations should be given serious independent review, as was done by the New York Times,” Abrams said. “Vice President Biden has spent over 40 years in public life advocating for women, and nothing in the Times review suggests anything other than what I already knew: that Joe Biden is a man of highest integrity who will make all women proud as our next president.”
The shared stance of Democratic women is clear: Biden has already been investigated, and the story didn't hold up, ending any questions about his behavior. The highest-profile call for Biden to address the accusation came from the Twitter account of Women's March, which Saturday asked for Biden “address the allegations about his behavior.” While his campaign has repeatedly denied the accusation, Biden has not been asked about it, or spoken about it, directly.
… nine days until Ohio tries to finish its primary
… 121 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 127 days until the Republican National Convention
… 197 days until the general election