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Today’s read: 9 minutes.
Bernie’s news, the insane Wisconsin primary yesterday, a question about colleges opening back up and a story about how coronavirus might change the 2020 Congressional races.
Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the Democratic race for president, his campaign announced around 11:30 a.m. EST on Wednesday. Sanders had surged in favorability and probability to win the nomination early on, but Biden took control of the race in South Carolina and held Sanders off with overwhelming support from black and suburban voters in crucial primary states. Bernie has had no viable path to the nomination for weeks, as I wrote before coronavirus became the headline of the day, but his decision ultimately comes a day after the chaotic Wisconsin primary and before vote totals began to even come in. Sanders has said he will support whoever the Democratic nominee is, and now that nominee is former Vice President Joe Biden. The New York Times has a story up here and we’ll dive in more on this tomorrow, but today's Tangle is focused on the debate over the Wisconsin primary.
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What D.C. is talking about.
Wisconsin. Yesterday, Wisconsin voters went to the polls to vote in the state’s Democratic primary despite warnings from health experts about the risk of causing a coronavirus outbreak. Mayors and Democratic lawmakers in the state had tried to stop the voting from happening. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) even issued an executive order to delay voting until June 9th. But the Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked the executive order 4-2, along ideological lines (4 conservatives and 2 liberal justices), saying Evers did not have the power as governor to postpone the election despite the fact there is a statewide stay-at-home order. To make things messier, because poll workers were so overwhelmed, thousands of voters who tried to vote by mail will receive their absentee ballots after election day. Wisconsin law disqualifies ballots received after election day, so a federal court extended the deadline to receive absentee ballots from election day (April 7th) to April 13th. A conservative appeals court upheld that ruling. But then the United States Supreme Court partially reversed it, telling the state to only count absentee ballots received after April 7th that were postmarked before election day. That means thousands of voters who will receive their absentee ballots after election day will have their votes thrown out.
Once the state Supreme Court struck down the governor’s executive order, the in-person election was on. Scenes from yesterday included voters donning face masks and gloves waiting hours in rain and hail to vote. Poll workers wore hazmat suits. Lines stretched around blocks where voters tried to maintain the CDC-recommended six feet of distance from each other. Now, we won’t get results from the election until next week, after absentee ballots that come in the mail are counted.
What the left is saying.
This is going to kill people. Literally. Democrats from the top (presidential candidates) to the bottom (local municipal officials) are outraged, saying the Republican lawmakers just pulled off one of the greatest acts of voter suppression in American history. Liberals are hammering both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Wisconsin state Supreme Court for voter suppression and endangering citizens. “The U.S. Supreme Court approved one of the most brazen acts of voter suppression in modern history,” Mark Joseph Stein wrote in Slate. Bernie Sanders said Republicans were risking the lives of voters for their own political gain. “Let's be clear: holding this election amid the coronavirus outbreak is dangerous, disregards the guidance of public health experts, and may very well prove deadly," he said. And this isn’t just about the Democratic primary: there is a Wisconsin state Supreme Court seat up for grabs and a conservative justice (Dan Kelly) fighting to stay on the court. That means Republicans on the state Supreme Court are making decisions that will directly impact the fate of the seat of one of their fellow justices — a seat that could swing the court from a 4-2 conservative majority to a 3-3 split. Is it any wonder they are trying to suppress the vote?
What the right is saying.
There are a lot of fingers being pointed at Gov. Evers. The Democratic leader was saying the election should go forward a few weeks ago, then flip-flopped and called for a legislative session to postpone the election on April 3rd, then waited until the night before the election to issue an executive order to try and stop it. Had he displayed any kind of leadership or brought forward a coherent plan to the Republican-led government, there could have been a path to delaying the election weeks ago. Instead, his last-minute intervention left the courts with little choice. “Under state law, the governor doesn’t have the authority to act unilaterally to postpone an election, which left the court with little choice but to refer the matter back to the legislature and the governor to work out the issue,” Ed Morrissey wrote in Hot Air. “Evers has been all over the place on this point rather than demonstrating any real leadership on it… However, the Republican-controlled legislature hasn’t fared much better.”
As for the courts, the Supreme Court had good reason to strike down the state’s ruling. The Purcell principle cautions courts from altering voting laws shortly before voting takes place. It said the district court was essentially allowing voting for six days after the election. Andrew McCarthy noted in National Review that pushing back the deadline to send in votes could have an outsized impact on the election. It means “the election would be materially altered by events occurring after the formal conclusion of the primary election — not least, news about the apparent election result,” he wrote. Some conservatives also rejected the idea that this was helping Republicans, noting that the elderly vote by absentee ballot more often than young voters and are far more likely to be scared away from the polls given the fact they are the at-risk population. The elderly also tend to vote for Republicans. If anything, this ruling could hurt absentee ballots and favor those who showed up in person — which just as easily might mean an advantage for the left. On the other hand, President Trump has encouraged Republicans to stop statewide mail-in voting, saying it would hurt them because of voter fraud.
If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you know that it’s pretty rare for me to land hard on one side of an issue. Typically, I see far more gray than black or white. But this entire thing is an embarrassment. It is not a democracy. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but the Republican-led state legislature is at the top of the blame pyramid. And I’m not some lib for saying that: plenty of Republicans outside of Wisconsin are willing to admit as much.
They ultimately had the most control and had the most opportunity to delay this election — with Gov. Evers or not — and they chose not to. There is a real chance that at least a few, and maybe hundreds, of Wisconsin voters are going to contract coronavirus and die as a result of this. Thousands had to make the choice between their health or their vote. While it wasn’t a big issue in most parts of the state (voting actually went smoothly in a lot of counties), it was absolutely crippling in the cities. The number of polling stations in Milwaukee went from 180 to five. One hundred and eighty to five! That’s insane. And it left thousands of voters crowded into polling places in a state that already has 1,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 87 deaths. It also severely limited the vote. There were just 18,803 in-person ballots cast in Milwaukee. 435,000 adults live there.
All of this comes with the context of Wisconsin politics in general, which has been a giant dumpster fire of partisanship for the last few years. The Wisconsin state Supreme Court seems to have followed the law closely, though the United States Supreme Court had an opportunity to change precedent and address the current moment we’re living in. It didn’t and it failed. And while Gov. Evers deserves plenty of scorn for advocating this election go forward a few weeks ago when this was all predictable, he ultimately tried to do the right thing in the end. It should have been postponed until May or June. At the very least, the absentee ballots voters received after election day should have been counted. Instead, neither happened, and whatever result comes in will be marred by an asterisk of unbelievable proportions.
Oh, one other thing, too: there are a lot of Bernie surrogates and Bernie supporters blasting Biden, who didn’t make a push to delay the election. I agree with them on principle: Biden was wrong on this, and the election should have been postponed or the absentee ballots should have had an extended deadline for folks who received them after election day. But those same Bernie surrogates are dead wrong if they are trying to pretend like this is Bernie getting robbed or the establishment working to screw him over. The cold hard truth is that Bernie’s path to the nomination evaporated weeks ago, and Biden was well ahead of him in Wisconsin polls anyway. If voting had gone on as normal, the outcome would have been the same: Bernie would be dropping out today.
Many readers have written in and asked about what it’s like covering President Donald Trump. One thing I often say is that writing about Trump is particularly difficult because he is very good at taking as many positions as possible on one issue. Unlike past presidents and other politicians, Trump doesn’t so much “flip-flop” as he hedges his positions on almost everything. There’s a joke amongst political reporters that Trump’s position is whatever the last person he spoke to said, as he often reverts to repeating the last stance he was pitched. Yesterday, there was a great example during his press briefing, so I thought I’d share it. In the clip below, you can see Trump go from saying “we are going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO” to saying “I’m not saying I’m going to do it… I said we are going to look at” just 16 minutes later. It’s a great example of how he will vaguely suggest something, then say the opposite of it, and then watch how it plays out before actually making his move. It’s both an infuriating thing to try to write about and sometimes an effective political tactic.
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: Reader questions are a big part of Tangle. To ask a question, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in. Give it a try!
Q: How are U.S. colleges and universities preparing for the fall semester, when no one can predict exactly when the current Coronavirus crisis will end?
- Jill, Seacoast, NH
Tangle: The first and most important thing here is that there’s a lot of unknown. This week has been full of “we’re almost out of the woods” energy as some data has come in showing new coronavirus cases seem to have peaked in the last week in certain areas. But that’s liable to change any day, especially as the outbreak hits new cities or more rural areas.
To answer your question, I think the most logical place to start is actually this summer. Millions of students are supposed to be in summer classes in about eight weeks time, and how colleges handle that should be a preview of the fall (much like how we handle elections now could be a preview for November). My fiancé, for instance, is supposed to have summer classes here in New York City. Her school recently told her that summer classes will be moved entirely online. That’s a pretty big leap, especially here in New York, and she goes to a school that has a wide range of socio-economic situations. If they are doing it, I imagine most other universities will too.
There is a woman named Madeleine Rhyneer who is the vice president of EAB, a higher education strategy firm. She hit the nail on the head when she spoke to U.S. News. "I think (colleges) are approaching challenges sort of on a triage basis," she said. That seems right on point to me. Most colleges are trying to make today work, and the idea of planning for the fall with so much unknown just seems extremely difficult.
We do have a little data, though. EAB actually polled universities about their plans. Some 25% of colleges are already offering online options if students can’t study on campus in the fall. But 69% said they were unsure if they would or how to offer that option. Some colleges have already said they are going to cancel all summer programs, while others — like the University of Central Florida, a school of 70,000 students — say they are going to push forward with programs that are entirely online.
And then, of course, there are colleges like Liberty University — run by Jerry Falwell Jr. — which already brought students back despite outrage and dire warnings. Falwell Jr. has been defending himself in the opinion section of The Daily Caller. The decision is widely viewed as reckless, but I think if Liberty University gets back to normal without too much disruption there’s actually a good chance other colleges follow suit.
As for my personal projection: I think colleges will run pretty much on schedule by the fall. I suspect in-person classes will be back and I think by then most of the country will be at least attempting to function normally. A lot of readers have written in and asked my thoughts about how long this will last and what will come of it. I’ve spoken to friends about it as well. I honestly think that by early or mid-June the country’s patience will have worn thin, and it will be a bit of a waiting game to see who makes the first move. Once one governor or mayor or senator calls for things to come back online, people will start coming out of their houses slowly. President Trump may go for it well before then. And as long as there isn’t a huge, totally uncontained re-emergence of coronavirus, I think people will rush back to their day-to-day lives. I really can’t imagine this lasting through the summer and I think by the fall there will be plenty of people taking calculated risks and returning to work and school, even if that means many of them are wearing masks or obsessively washing hands and avoiding personal contact. All of this, of course, could change if we see new infections pick up over the next few weeks — but right now that’s my best guess.
A story that matters.
Coronavirus is going to have a major impact on the 2020 election, but not just in how it’ll change the voting process. It could give both House Democrats and Senate Republicans advantages in defending their majorities. In the House races, Democrats already raised huge sums in the off-year and have cash on hand if coronavirus and the economic impacts hurt donations. In the Senate, Republicans have cash on hand advantages and can stave off the final push from Democrats over the summer, given that Americans could be less likely to cough up extra cash on political fundraising. On the other hand, Republicans typically raise money at events that could disappear due to the social distancing guidance while Democrats in the Senate and challengers tend to haul in money online. Politico reporters seem to view the new landscape as an advantage for whoever holds the current majority and cash on hand lead. They’ve got the story here.
- 89%. The percentage of Democrats who support restricting all Americans to only essential travel, according to a Morning Consult poll.
- 82%. The percentage of Republicans who support restricting all Americans to only essential travel, according to a Morning Consult poll.
- 44%. President Trump’s approval rating, a 1% bump from his pre-outbreak approval and the highest rating in three years, according to a new CNN poll.
- 55%. The percentage of Americans who now say the federal government has done a poor job preventing the spread of coronavirus, a 12-point increase since last month.
- 37%. The percentage of Americans who say they have grown more concerned about coronavirus in the last few days.
- 60. The number of people who were laid off from the National Rifle Association yesterday due to the coronavirus outbreak.
- 1,100. The number of employees of New York’s MTA that have tested positive for coronavirus.
- 14. The number of states that have already postponed in-person elections or extended mail-in voting deadlines because of coronavirus.
Have a nice day.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced yesterday that he would be donating $1 billion of his Square equity, or about 28% of his wealth, to an LLC that will fund the global COVID-19 crisis. It’s the most significant donation Dorsey has ever made and also dwarfs the charitable contributions hundreds of other Americans with similar wealth have made to causes they support. Dorsey said the fund, once the coronavirus crisis passes, will shift to girls’ health, education and Universal Basic Income. He also said that those three things “represent the best long-term solutions to the existential problems facing the world,” then shared a public Google Sheet where people can track the way the LLC is spending and using its money. You can read more here.
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