Mar 18, 2020

Biden dominates (again). Bernie's campaign could be over.

Biden dominates (again). Bernie's campaign could be over.

Plus, the origin story of coronavirus.

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Today’s read: 8 minutes.

Last night’s results, Trump’s B.S. on coronavirus, a question about the primaries and a story about how this all started.

Photo: Gage Skidmore | Flickr

A note.

Several people wrote in or commented on yesterday’s newsletter to say that what the federal government is proposing right now is not Universal Basic Income and shouldn’t be labeled as such. The general argument was: the government is considering temporary payments, these could be one-time payments and there’s no funding model to support it. This is a response to a pandemic, not a test run for UBI. Those are all good points. My feeling reading the news yesterday was that there were a lot of people, Andrew Yang included, who were embracing the idea of cutting checks for every American as a response to the pandemic. One reason why was because they felt like that was step toward people being familiarized with the concept of UBI. Yang himself would likely contend that his UBI plan is a response to a pandemic, too: it’s just automation, not a virus. But I do appreciate that my writing yesterday may have given too much credence to the hype. The feedback is much appreciated.

Fox News flip-flop.

As I’ve written here, President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was slow, clumsy and — at times — totally bonkers. With the help of right-wing media, Trump spent most of February and the early part of March framing the coronavirus as an overblown threat being used to damage him by Democrats. Yesterday, The Washington Post released a revealing video that showed how Fox News’s coverage of the virus has changed over the last week. It’s worth watching:

What D.C. is talking about.

The primaries. Last night, Joe Biden swept all three Democratic primaries in commanding fashion. Pollster Dave Wasserman says there is a chance Biden won every county in Illinois, Florida and Arizona. Biden now has 1,147 of the 1,991 delegates needed to win the nomination, compared to Bernie’s 861 delegates. With 98.6% of the vote reported in Illinois, Biden won 59.1% of the votes to Bernie’s 36.1%. With 98.8% of the vote reported in Florida, Biden won 61.9% of the vote to Bernie’s 22.8%. With 88.2% of the vote reported in Arizona, Biden won 43.6% of the vote to Bernie’s 31.6%. While some areas saw a turnout drop due to the coronavirus threat, MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki reported that turnout in Florida will end up around 2.25 million, higher than in both 2016 (1.7 million) and 2008. President Donald Trump also officially secured the Republican nomination for president last night, crossing the delegate threshold as he goes uncontested across the U.S. Meanwhile, a debate is taking place on how to handle things from here. Ohio’s Governor postponed the Ohio primary by ignoring a judge’s order and barring the elections as a public health emergency. That set off an argument about how Democrats should handle upcoming primary elections.

What the left is saying.

It’s over. Time for Bernie to pack up and join the team. Last night’s results were yet another example of Biden’s dominance, and whatever Sanders has left to say he can do it from the campaign stage where he’ll be supporting the Democratic nominee. “The Democratic primary isn't competitive,” pollster Nate Silver tweeted. “Gonna be spending my time getting a head start on our general election model, and maybe experiment with a reported column on coronavirus.” This may be the last primary vote we have for a while, given the coronavirus situation, and it’s clear how this is going to end. Ryan Grim, a Sanders supporter at The Intercept, wrote about the contradiction of having the primaries: on the one hand, they flew in the face of CDC guidelines on public gatherings and put voters at risk. On the other hand, postponing them (as Ohio did) felt like a grave threat to Democracy. Others, like CNN’s Paul Begala, said the night proved Democrats believed in Democracy, citing a long history of voters voting during crises (1918 Spanish Flu, Civil War, World Wars, etc.). In the meantime, Bernie Sanders says he is “assessing the state of his campaign.” With the next primary three weeks away and coronavirus running rampant, all eyes are on Sanders’ next move.

What the right is saying.

It sure looks messy over there. Republicans across the spectrum seemed to endorse the idea that Democrats should suspend or end their primary race and Bernie should drop out. Some noted that primary voting is a clear and direct way to put elderly people all in one place and ensure they interact with others — the complete opposite of social distancing. “How do you hold primaries when much of the country’s being asked not to go out in public?” The New York Post editorial board asked. Others went after Bernie, saying it was his fault for staying in a race he can’t win and urging voters to go out to the polls and cast a ballot for him (it should be noted that many Bernie surrogates wanted the primaries to be postponed). Dan McLaughlin said Democratic voters in Florida “know it’s over and they want it over,” hence Biden’s blowout win.

My take.

Bernie is done and I think his team knows it. The fact that their tone was not an unequivocal “we are staying in the race” today tells you all you need to know. There’s also reports he has frozen all Facebook ads, a sign this could be it. What’s the path forward? You have the next primaries three weeks away where you’re going to have to ask voters to endanger themselves to vote in order to cast a ballot in a race that you know you can’t win. Bernie’s campaign is not dumb. Some of Biden’s strongest states are still on the map and Sanders would need to win 62% of the remaining delegates to win the primary. He’s gotten absolutely smoked even in the states he was doing well in across the polls. It’s not complicated. From a Sanders’ supporter perspective, the best option is: drop out now and save Democrats the hassle of voting, unify the party, support Biden and start pushing his policies as far to the left as possible. I don’t know what else there is to do. From my perspective, it’s obvious that voting is going to be impeded and dangerous for weeks. If this race was close I’d have a much harder time making a call here — but the race isn’t close. Sanders should drop out, Democrats should suspend voting through May (at least) and the party should be unifying against Trump if it wants to have a chance in November.

Calling B.S.

I’ve given Trump credit for being visible during this pandemic and for his early travel restrictions responding to the pandemic. So I’m also going to call him out when he’s full of B.S. Trump blasted this tweet out this morning:

To be clear, this is patently false. You can see how Trump actually responded to the coronavirus in The Atlantic, but here are some highlights:

  • On February 10th, President Trump said on Fox Business that the coronavirus “supposedly” dies in hot weather.
  • On February 13th, Kamala Harris tweeted that she had attended a Homeland Security committee meeting on coronavirus. No Trump administration officials attended.
  • On February 24th, the president tweeted that “the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.” There were less than 50 cases. Today there are nearly 7,000.
  • On March 2nd, Trump said during a press conference that a vaccine was coming “relatively soon,” despite experts saying it could take up to a year.
  • On March 4th, Trump told Sean Hannity that some people will just get better from the virus by “sitting around and even go to work — some of them go to work, but they get better.”
  • On March 6th, Trump said the numbers in Italy are “getting much better.” Since then, death totals and the spread of the virus have increased exponentially.
  • On March 6th, Trump also said, “anybody that wants a test can get a test.” That’s still untrue today.

These were the kinds of comments the president was making early on during this outbreak. That’s to say nothing of his Twitter feed, which was full of content claiming it was all a ploy by the Democrats to hurt him. There is no way to avoid the reality: the president’s initial response to this pandemic was slow, unbelieving and sloppy.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Tangle is all about reader questions. If you want to get into the mix, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in with a question.

Q: Is there a good reason the primaries are so staggered/split date wise?  Seems a single day would be a lot cleaner, and a lot fairer as well.  (i.e. I ask on Monday: Hey Tangle, what do you want for lunch on Friday? Pizza. Thursday: Pizza is no longer an option, and no, you don't get to indicate a second choice or be consulted again, too bad!) Granted, ranked-choice could alleviate that as well (if Pizza drops out, your second choice of tacos gets your vote)… but curious as to why, and if there is a good reason to keep it that way?

- Robert, Washington D.C.

Tangle: When I first read your question, I found myself in agreement. I both loved the analogy you made (about how people’s feelings might change) and also really appreciate the general sense that it’d be fairer and cleaner to have everyone vote on one day. Of course, that’s to say nothing of the fact we could just have a national holiday and ensure everyone votes.

When I looked into the history of the primaries, though, I found some really compelling reasons for why it’s done the way it’s done. Firstly, having a national primary would put a lot more emphasis on simple name recognition and money. If there were one day and one vote, the barrier of entry for a candidate to be competitive would be much, much higher than it is right now. The reason primaries were born is because national and state parties wanted to build more grassroots mobilization and participation. By having the primaries structured the way they are, candidates are forced to campaign across the country in a more hyper-local way. If there were just a national primary, candidates would be campaigning nationally and — feasibly — would never really hit the ground the way they do right now.

The other side of your framing, too, is that staggering the primaries actually gives more people time to figure out what their favorite lunch is. To steal your analogy, I can now eat pizza on Monday, tacos on Tuesday and sushi on Wednesday. Then, by the time Friday rolls around, I’ve tasted everything and can decide what I want. For later states, the primaries being staggered is a way to see and try out all the candidates before you decide. For the early states, you are essentially getting to choose what the later states “taste” first. There is power and upside on both ends.

Of course, in this election, we’ve seen the downside of the power those early states have. Iowa and New Hampshire no longer represent the Democratic party, and I imagine this is the last time we’ll ever see them vote first. In the event there was a national primary, we’d also probably see states with smaller delegate counts become total afterthoughts. Suppose Iowa was to vote on the same day California and the 48 other states did. Would a candidate ever touch down there? Ever interact with voters there? Ever spend any time campaigning there? Probably not. We’d see everyone throw their time and money at the most delegate-rich states and virtually ignore the others.

Generally speaking, I think the staggered voting accomplishes a few things: it creates a more local, personal voting process. It gives voters more time to suss out what candidates they like. It gives candidates a chance to build momentum or overcome name recognition and funding (i.e. lower barrier of entry to win the nomination). And it helps avoid a primary where 4 or 5 states get all the attention and rest of the country is ignored.

In a lot of ways, the staggered primary structure is flawed. But I think it’s probably the best option we’ve got.

A story that matters.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, it’s important to remember how this all started. The Wall Street Journal documented the incredible story of the coronavirus origins, and also how the Chinese government prevented doctors from sharing information about the link between people getting sick. That left their medical peers, and the public, in the dark. Even after President Xi Jinping had ordered officials to control the outbreak, authorities continued to deny that the virus could spread between humans. A Chinese Lunar New Year celebration even took place with tens of thousands of families in Wuhan, where the virus originated, after doctors knew the virus was spreading person-to-person. The Chinese government and President Xi, in particular, have rejected any criticism of their response, and recently removed American reporters from China. It’s important to note that while America, Italy and other countries now battling this virus deserve their own criticism for their handling of it — the Chinese government’s role should not be lost. That does not mean it’s the fault of Chinese people (nor should you call it the “China virus”), but this story is an important piece of information about the outbreak. It’s worth reading. Click.


  • 22%. The percentage of Americans who said their mental health had taken a hit as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • 29%. The percentage of Americans who said their emotional well-being had gotten worse.
  • 89. The number of confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases on March 1st.
  • 564. The number of confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases on March 8th.
  • 3,505. The number of confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases on March 15th.
  • 6,519. The number of confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases today, March 18th.
  • 18%. The percentage of U.S. workers who have already lost their jobs or had reduced hours due to the coronavirus outbreak.
  • 74%. Percentage of people who primarily watch MSNBC that say they are worried about the coronavirus.
  • 38%. Percentage of people who primarily watch Fox News that say they are worried about the coronavirus.

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Supermarkets across the country and the globe are dedicating certain hours to the elderly only. The exclusive hours, often before the stores open, is an effort from some places to slow the spread of coronavirus to the most vulnerable populations. Grocery stores in Australia, Ireland and in the U.S. are already participating. Some stores in the U.S. have resisted the exclusive hours, saying it’s not actually safe for the elderly, and are instead offering to execute online pickup and delivery for shoppers who need help getting food. Either way, one of the most important things during this pandemic is going to be keeping the elderly safe and making sure people have the food and supplies they need. This kind of attention is a good step toward that. Click.

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