The Briefing, Vol. VIII, Issue 11

This week:

  • Sanders’s last gasp
  • Coronavirus threatens to upend election calculus
  • Sessions trails in runoff

President 2020

Democrats: The consensus of the pundits is that Joe Biden won Sunday’s (mercifully audience-free) debate on points. But even if Bernie Sanders had laid him out flat, it wouldn’t have been enough to stop the former vice president’s unstoppable candidacy. 

Sanders has decided to prolong the inevitable. Rather than drop out, he used his national press opportunity to prolong the agony of his socialist revolution. Yet Sanders has been defeated this time even earlier than he was in 2016. Biden has the whole thing wrapped up in early March. Any efforts by Sanders at this point are too little, too late. 

Biden already accomplished everything he needed to in last week’s nominating contests merely by beating Sanders in Michigan, Mississippi, and Missouri. But in fact, he did so much more than that.

In 2016, Sanders had won 78% of the vote in Idaho’s caucuses. This time, Idaho held a primary, and Biden beat him. Is Idaho important? No. Is that turnaround from 2016 to 2020 an amazing, soul-crushing defeat in a place where Sanders was supposed to win easily? Absolutely. 

All signs point to the same thing. Sanders spooked the Democratic electorate. When it became clear that his nomination was really about to happen, Democratic voters entered into a silent conspiracy not to let it. 

American Democrats are social Democrats, but they are not socialists. They will not 

March 17: Unless there is some special and unexpected effect from coronavirus, things only get worse for Sanders from here. His love for Castro is likely to wipe him out in Tuesday’s Florida primary. Biden is already the easy favorite in Arizona, Illinois and Ohio. There won’t be any consolation prizes for Sanders. Biden is now on an easy glide-path to the nomination.

Trump: Everything was going so well for Trump. The economy was extremely strong, especially for the working man, and it showed no signs of letting up. The Democrats were disunited and debating socialism like so many crazy people. 

Then coronavirus hit. Perhaps it seemed like hype at first, but that is no longer that case. At this point, with schools, churches, and businesses canceling nearly everything, it is clear now that the economy is sure to take a massive hit. 

The fact that Trump hasn’t necessarily handled coronavirus well is only part of his problem, but it is a problem. Trump was wrong to downplay this problem. If he’d followed the standard political playbook — that of President Obama and others — he would have played up the plague and then blamed it for all of his problems. Trump may have found a situation where his unconditional approach to politics works against him.

Up to this moment, Trump has been wildly successful in working against human opponents. But this virus is something new. He cannot insult or belittle it. He cannot make insinuations about its incompetence, senility, or dishonesty.

So far, Trump has not found the correct formula for dealing with it. That is not to say that all is lost. Trump would be doomed if the economy fell off due to structural weaknesses. But his reputation, such as it is, can probably survive a temporary, weeks-long downturn caused by coronavirus, so long as a true recovery takes place this summer. 

Still, it is clear by now that everything has been scrambled. The election’s calculus has been tossed into a blender 

Senate 2020

Alabama: With President Trump bearing down against him, Jeff Sessions may be in bigger trouble than recent polling suggests. The Club for Growth’s poll finds a surprisingly close race in the Republican nomination runoff, with Sessions down only by four points, 49% to 45%. Other polling has him trailing by double digits.

The NRA’s endorsement of Sessions can only help him. But with Trump wholeheartedly behind former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, he must be heavily favored in the March 31 runoff.

Arizona: OH Predictive Insights has found Sen. Martha McSally, R, trailing retired astronaut Mark Kelly, D, badly. It is bad news for an incumbent to poll at just 42%, against the Democrat’s 49%. But it fits McSally’s weak polling to date. This Arizona Senate seat is an especially weak point for the Senate GOP in 2020. 

Mississippi: The primary voters have rendered their verdict. This fall’s election will once again see a race between Democrat Mike Espy and Republican incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who is seeking election to a full term. This election is likely to return the same result as the last.