Pandemic and Biden shift our body politic

Pandemic and Biden shift our body politic

Brian Howey, Columnist
Published 11:33 p.m. CT March 12, 2020

Think about where the 2020 presidential race was a month ago: President Trump was acquitted in the Senate impeachment trial and his approval approached the 50% mark that had eluded him for most of his first term. His reelection chances were greatly enhanced. With Joe Biden’s apparent demise, Trump v. Sanders appeared to be a fait accompli.        

Since then, we’ve watched the coronavirus swarm across the globe and into the American psyche. President Trump’s response has been abysmal, crystalized in his visit late last week to the Center for Disease Control where he asked, “Who would have thought we would even be having the subject?”

Tom Bossert was one who did, handling the National Security Council’s pandemic portfolio until President Trump fired and didn’t replace him. Bossert described a “tip of the iceberg” scenario in a Washington Post op-ed: “The most useful comparison now is to a fire that threatens to burn out of control. It is one we can still contain, even extinguish – if we act. School closures, isolation of the sick, home quarantines of those who have come into contact with the sick, social distancing, telework and large-gathering cancellations must be implemented before the spread of the disease in any community reaches 1%. After that, science tells us, these interventions become far less effective. If we fail to take action, we will watch our health-care system be overwhelmed.”        

At this writing on Thursday, a mere 64 coronavirus tests had been conducted in Indiana according to the Indiana State Department of Health website, and just 1,784 nationally, including 77 this week. There should have been millions tested.

“The system is not really geared to what we need right now. That is a failing,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Thursday. The U.S. hospital system has one million beds and 60,000 ventilators and could be, in Bossert’s words, “creamed” in a matter of weeks.        

The day before his CDC trip to Atlanta, President Trump said of the pandemic, “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.”                 

Faced with a Trump v. Sanders shouting match, voters responded. After Rep. James Clyburn’s clarion endorsement and the presidential field moderates of Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bloomberg coalescing around Joe Biden, an unprecedented turn of events occurred. Though Biden’s “No Malarkey” campaign was running on financial fumes, with virtually no field offices and a tiny advertising budget, he has swept Sanders in the Deep South, Texas, Minnesota, Massachusetts and now Missouri and Michigan.        

And telltales are emerging that Biden v. Trump won’t be the nail-biter that conventional wisdom envisioned. If the 78-year-old Biden can avoid a health emergency, keep his malapropisms to a cute minimum, and choose a running mate who enhances his electability, if Trump continues his unempathetic approach to the pandemic, the November showdown may not even be close.

In Tuesday’s Missouri primary, white men with college degrees swung 55% away from Sanders. According to CNN exit polls, Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton 64%-36% in 2016. On Tuesday, Biden won that demographic 60% to 33%. As the Political Wire’s Taegan Goddard observed, “That’s pretty solid evidence that a significant amount of Bernie Sanders’ support four years ago was more anti-Hillary than pro-Bernie.”        

As I’ve stated at the beginning of the 2020 cycle, Trump won’t have Hillary Clinton to kick around anymore.        

Tim Alberta reported for Politico: “Two things happened on Tuesday in Michigan. First, Democratic turnout exploded. Second, Biden performed far better with key demographic groups than Clinton did four years ago. If either one of those things happens in November, Trump will have a difficult time winning the state again. If both things happen, the president can kiss Michigan’s 16 electoral votes goodbye – and with them, more than likely, the electoral votes of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.”       

“The big takeaway from the day’s big prize, Michigan, isn’t that Biden is a spectacular candidate,” Alberta explained. “The big takeaway is that he doesn’t need to be.”

Sanders upset Hillary in Michigan in 2016; Tuesday, he didn’t carry a single county against Biden. Turnout in the Texas Democratic primary was described as “staggeringly high” with long lines at polls.       

Sadly, we now face an engulfing pandemic. The Trump administration’s decision not to accept the World Health Organization’s coronavirus test has mystified and infuriated American governors. Universities, schools, basketball tournaments, the NBA schedule, and political rallies are being cancelled or postponed. The bears have moved on to Wall Street, stoking recession anxiety after an 11-year bull run. The markets were not reassured by President Trump’s primetime speech Wednesday night that focused on keeping the foreign contagion out, as opposed to widespread testing within.        

Fear, once Trump’s tool of choice, is now induced within the population in a way polio once did more than a half century ago.        

What has become painfully evident is that President Trump is woefully unprepared for his first non-self-inflicted crisis.

This is not to say that incredible events and fate won’t whip-lash the body politic once again before this cycle runs its course. But we find ourselves in a vastly different place than we were a month ago.

The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com and the CrossroadsReport.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.

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