Mar 2, 2020

Joe Biden comes to life.

Joe Biden comes to life.

Plus, a question about the coronavirus.

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Today’s read: 8 minutes.

Joe Biden’s huge win and what it means, plus a reader question about whether scientists were actually muzzled during the coronavirus outbreak.

Joe Biden speaking with attendees at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum. Photo: Gage Skidmore

Reader note.

On Thursday, I wrote about the coronavirus. In “My take,” I noted that the president’s travel ban was criticized heavily at the time, but ultimately he “deserved some credit” for the possibility that he slowed the outbreak down in the U.S. At least one reader thought I was referring to the president’s infamous travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries that he called for during his campaign. I was not. I was referring to the president’s decision to screen travelers and stop non-U.S. citizens who were coming to the U.S. from China or other areas with a high prevalence of coronavirus, something he announced a few weeks ago.

What D.C. is talking about.

Joe Biden. The former Vice President followed through on his promise to win the South Carolina primary, and he did it in such convincing fashion it has catapulted him from talk of dropping out of the race to talk of him being the best challenger to Bernie Sanders. Biden won 48.4% of the vote in South Carolina and captured every single county, blowing Sanders out of the water — who received 19.9% of the vote. Tom Steyer, the billionaire behind one of the first “impeach Trump” movements, poured millions of dollars into South Carolina and finished third, with 11.3% of the vote. He dropped out of the race shortly after Biden was declared the winner. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of Indiana, also dropped out of the race on Sunday after another disappointing appearance with non-white voters. Perhaps most importantly, Biden picked up 61% of the black vote, an astronomical total in a field of six legitimate candidates. In recent years, black voters have had a crucial say in the direction of the Democratic party and Biden’s overwhelming support from them in this race bodes well for his chances going forward. South Carolina is also considered one of the most representative states to vote yet. Here is a snapshot of the results, via The New York Times:

Screenshots via The New York Times election page results.

What the right is saying.

For the flailing never-Trump movement, this is hope at last. Biden is pretty much the only alternative to Sanders that has a shot — save Bloomberg, who is problematic for other reasons — and anti-Trump Republicans might be able to stomach a vote him. The Wall Street Journal editorial board said the win “revives his bid as a serious challenger” and the “blowout victory has the potential to reset the Democratic race going into the 14 state contests across the country this Tuesday.” The board warned that “voters are only beginning to learn” what Sanders stands for, and Biden is a “plausible alternative” who offered a vision for the country that contrasts both Bernie and Trump. Die-hard supporters of Trump are mostly licking their lips. They view Biden as a total gaffe machine who has horrible political instincts and only just won his first state primary after 35 years and three attempts to become president. He’s also proved politically vulnerable, like when Trump successfully dragged him into the mud of the impeachment saga. Everyone on the right seems to agree on one thing: this win for Biden is proof that outside of Twitter, there may not be the appetitite for the radical policies Bernie is supporting. South Carolina is a kingmaker of a state, and it’s more representative of the Democratic party than Iowa, New Hampshire or Nevada. Voters there just made a big statement for someone they think can beat Trump and get stuff done, not someone promising to burn the house down and start a revolution. If nothing else, Biden’s dominant performance is proof the Democratic party is fractured and has no shot to beat Trump — no matter who they choose — come November.

What the left is saying.

It depends on which left — but it’s starting a mess. Moderate Democrats are breathing a sigh of relief. A loss in South Carolina would have been a death blow for Biden. Instead, they got the opposite. He didn’t just win: he dominated. Now those Biden supporters are calling on everyone else to clear the field. Buttigieg already dropped out. Klobuchar and Bloomberg should be next. #BernieDropOut started trending on Twitter Sunday as his supporters were accused of demeaning black voters and people of color for supporting Biden. It was also trending because Sanders supporters used the hashtag to respond to Bernie-haters and tell them he wasn’t going anywhere. The Sanders fans derided the media for calling Biden the winner the moment the polls closed and downplayed the importance of Biden’s victory, noting that Sanders was still enjoying comfortable leads across Super Tuesday states (who vote tomorrow). A bizarre dichotomy is developing where Biden may dominate in red states in the south while Sanders dominates in blue states across the U.S. It’s a concerning trend for Democrats as a whole, given that the party’s best shot of losing to Trump is if they can’t unite around a single candidate.

My take.

Yesterday afternoon, when I began writing this section, I was explaining why it was time for Buttigieg and Klobuchar to drop out. I had this drafted up:

Buttigieg and Klobuchar, at the minimum, should probably call it. I don’t see anyway Buttigieg has a path to the nomination given his numbers with non-white voters, and it’s clear his message is not resonating across the party. His campaign is basically admitting as much and it’s about time his supporters accepted that. Team Pete will not even disclose how many delegates it could earn tomorrow to stay viable and is saying openly that it’s about “limiting Sanders’ lead.” If they want to help Biden and hurt Sanders, dropping out and throwing support behind Biden would probably be the best move. Klobuchar is in an even worse position, having not gained any momentum at any moment in the campaign and still yet to pick up a single delegate. It may be time for Warren, too, who is still polling well nationally — and could get traction tomorrow — but at some point must see the reality that Sanders is owning the progressive lane and she only serves to hurt his mutual cause.

Buttigieg dropped out around 6 p.m. EST when I was editing this copy. It was the right move for his campaign and for his vision of the country — especially if he wants to see a moderate win the nomination. But it’s also not as simple as you think. Conventional wisdom says Pete’s fans will go to Biden, since they both offer a more “centrist” vision of the country, but I wouldn’t be so sure. Buttigieg was running a staunchly progressive campaign despite being tagged as a moderate, and there have been plenty of polls showing Buttigieg’s supporters split evenly between Bernie, Biden and Warren on their second choice.

Still, this is all a math game now. To win the nomination outright, a nominee has to earn 1,991 pledged delegates — or 50% of the total delegates up for grabs. Delegates are earned when a candidate gets more than 15% of the vote in a state. For example, Bernie got 19.9% of the vote in South Carolina and earned 15 delegates. Steyer got 11% of the vote and earned zero delegates since he didn’t hit the 15% threshold. By dropping out, Buttigieg improves the chances of Biden, Bloomberg and Warren hitting those 15% thresholds across Super Tuesday states, which will limit the delegate lead Bernie can extend. The closer the race, the better the chance of a contested convention, which puts more power in the hands of Democratic party officials. I’ll be explaining how this works later in the week.

As for South Carolina: it’s a huge win for Biden and it does seem to make him the only Sanders alternative (unless Bloomberg pulls something incredible off tomorrow). There are a lot of white liberal progressives who have continuously written Biden off, and they’d be wise to stop dismissing the bloc of nonwhite voters — which they claim to care about — that have consistently backed Biden’s candidacy. It’s hard to imagine Biden outperforming Sanders tomorrow, especially with Bloomberg, Warren and Klobuchar still in the race. Then again, Bloomberg has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Super Tuesday and skipped other states — a unique strategy never seen before in U.S. politics. Tomorrow we find out whether it will pay off or not. Based on the polls, even in a best-case scenario for Biden, he will simply draw close enough to Sanders to drag the fight out for another month. But… the polls we have are now dated — everything changes with Steyer and Buttigieg out and Biden’s electability argument back in play after a dominating win in South Carolina. The truth is tomorrow will be a big crapshoot, and we’re all just going to have to wait and see where voters go.

Memory lane.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Tangle is all about reader questions. To ask something, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in.

Q: I would be interested in a Tangle about this. You see things like this and it gives credence to Trump supporters that the mainstream media doesn’t give the administration the benefit of the doubt but rather builds their own narrative to fit their bias.

- Erik, Los Angeles, CA

Note: “This” was a video of Dr. Anthony Fauci telling the press he was not “being muzzled” from talking about coronavirus despite the media saying he was.

Tangle: I’m glad you asked this question. For those of you who missed this story, here is how Tangle covered it on Friday (emphasis is mine):

The New York Times reported that government health officials and scientists will have to coordinate all statements and appearances with the office of Vice President Mike Pence, a move decried by the left as an attempt to muzzle the science and keep important information from the public.

After the report broke, the word being thrown around the most on the left was that Trump was “muzzling” the scientists from sharing important information about the coronavirus. The general idea was that Trump was doing this to prevent more panic, negative coverage of his administration’s response and the nosedive the markets were taking in response. One such person who Americans and the media really wanted to hear from was Dr. Anthony Fauci. He is a leading expert on viruses in the U.S. and one of the rare people left in America who is widely respected on the left and right.

According to the Times report, Dr. Fauci said we were dealing with a “serious” virus that had “adapted extremely well to the human species.” Trump contradicted those remarks, and when the contradictions were pointed out by reporters, Dr. Fauci’s associates told The New York Times that the White House had instructed him not to say anything else without clearance.

In this clip, Dr. Fauci takes the podium to say that it was a “real misrepresentation of what happened” and explains that he simply had to apply for clearance again to appear on the shows when the leadership of the coronavirus response switched over to Pence. On the surface, it certainly appears that Dr. Fauci is taking the White House’s side and pushing back on reports that the flow of information was ever interrupted.

But to be clear: nothing Dr. Fauci says here in this video contradicts the Times report. There were a couple of news outlets that said health officials were being “muzzled,” but most of that was speculation and rhetoric on Twitter derived from the Times report. It’s great to hear from Dr. Fauci now and I give Trump credit for letting him speak — but I’m also not inclined to take his comments standing beside the president at face value. And I don’t think anyone should blame me for that. For three years, Trump has brazenly lied about small and big things. Trump administration officials have also brazenly lied, right at that podium, standing beside Trump. It started on Day 1, when Trump forced Sean Spicer to lie on his behalf about the inauguration crowd size, something Spicer has since conceded happened exactly how reporters said it did (the president forced him to appear before the media and lie about the size of the crowd).

At the time, a lot of seasoned White House reporters said Spicer’s decision to do what he did for something so insignificant was a fatal mistake — it burned the administration’s credibility on day one over something stupid, and would eventually hurt their credibility when it mattered a lot more. Three years later, and we’re seeing another example of the impact of that decision. This is the time when it matters a lot more. Every press secretary Trump has had so far has stood at that podium and told absolute whoppers for three years. So has the president. Do you think Dr. Fauci and Pence didn’t know this question was coming? Of course they did. Why should we trust Dr. Fauci now when he says he wasn’t “muzzled” by the president? Because he said it? I think Americans would be wise to be skeptical of anything they hear at that podium.

I’ll add, too, that for all the heat The New York Times rightfully gets, the paper has standards. I’ve been inside newsrooms and I know how they work. They are not publishing that story unless they have rock-solid sources on how it happened. They just aren’t. People who cry “fake news” and think anonymous sources are “made up” have never actually been inside that conversation — and as someone who has, I’m telling you confidently that The Times has several close associates of Dr. Fauci’s who told the paper that he was being pushed to line up his comments with the administration’s. I think that’s concerning for all sorts of reasons — and because I trust Dr. Fauci, I hope we continue to get his unvarnished take going forward. His comments here are re-assuring, but I in no way think they mean the reports were wrong or the media was lying — I trust the Times reports more than I trust Dr. Fauci’s comments at that podium with the president and VP looking over his shoulder.

Bloomberg primetime address.

Last night, Mike Bloomberg took the extraordinary step of buying a 3-minute spot on primetime television to address the nation. It largely addressed the coronavirus and what Americans want out of a president:

A story that matters.

Last year, Texas led the U.S. in a statistic that you don’t want to lead in: closing polling stations. A report by the civil rights group The Leadership Conference Education Fund found 750 polling sites were closed since 2012. Texas already has horrible voter turnout and polling site closures are expected to only worsen the problem. Democratic pollsters say the site closures disproportionately help Republicans, and have claimed that Texas is no longer a red state but being kept that way by the closures. The Guardian analyzed the closures and found that “the 50 counties that gained the most Black and Latinx residents between 2012 and 2018 closed 542 polling sites, compared to just 34 closures in the 50 counties that have gained the fewest black and Latinx residents.” Election officials say sites close because of lack of funding, tight budgets, difficulty recruiting poll workers or because they aren’t up to new standards like making them accessible for the disabled. You can read the full story from The Guardian. Click.


  • 77%. The percentage of Americans who say they trust the government to handle the coronavirus outbreak, according to Gallup.
  • 3,600. The number of people who have now been tested for coronavirus in the U.S., according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • 29%. The percentage of American workers who have the luxury of working remotely for their jobs.
  • 27.5 million. The number of workers who lack any form of health insurance.
  • 60%. The percentage of workers in service occupations who can take paid time off when they are sick.
  • $5 million. The amount of money the Biden campaign says it raised in the 24 hours after the South Carolina primary.
  • 2.7 million. The number of early voting ballots already cast in California.
  • 324,000. The estimated number of those votes that went to candidates (Tom Steyer and Pete Buttigieg) who dropped out of the race since the ballots were cast.

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