The Briefing, Vol. VIII Issue 14

A very Happy Passover and Easter to all our subscribers.

This week:

  • Uncertainties prevent post-pandemic planning
  • Democrats postpone convention
  • Wisconsin supreme court race is on for Tuesday

Coronavirus pandemic: Americans are just now getting used to the new realities of social distancing and work (or study) from-home-if-at-all. But what the nation needs next is a plan to come out of it. The economy obviously can only handle so much of this idleness before it collapses. After the virus has done its grim work, Trump’s political future may depend on his ability to deliver in this area. 

Already, there are plans being developed, but too much remains unknown at the time. Among the variables: how long it takes to make testing widely available; how much immunity the disease produces in those who recover from it; precise hospitalization and death rates; the rates of contagion in the population during the period of social distancing; success of varying treatment options; and eventually how long it will take to develop a vaccine.

Moreover, it is not yet clear which model will prove most effective in dealing with the spread of the disease. Will California’s full “shelter-in-place” provide a noticeable advantage over the less stringent quarantines that were imposed (at least at first) in places like Florida and the United Kingdom? And what about Sweden, which has refused to recommend or enforce isolation except for those at greatest risk? This was originally the British approach, but the U.K. has since shifted radically in the opposite direction, banning all gatherings of more than two people.

Will there really be any advantage to an even more prolonged isolation, such as Virginia’s apparently ludicrous stay-at-home order lasting until June 10? Will extended isolation only cause more of an outbreak later, as the British feared when they originally declined to go into “lockdown.”

And then, how much difference does population density make? Were New York and New Orleans inevitably doomed to suffer severe local outbreaks, whereas, more spread-out places such as Idaho and Alabama were always destined to have an easier time? 

As President Trump noted over the weekend, the next seven days will probably be the worst, at least in New York City. 

Assuming the healthcare system does not collapse, the nation will likely return at some point to a reduced form of normalcy — continued social-distancing, perhaps, but with people going out of their homes to work, wearing masks, et cetera. At the moment, people are worried enough about the virus that the mere removal of government restrictions will not be enough to get the economy rolling again. 

Party conventions: The postponement of the Democratic convention — from July until mid-August — illustrates just how uncertain everything is right now. It is probably a blow to Joe Biden and his hopes of unseating an incumbent president — a feat rarely accomplished in U.S. history — yet the current situation could easily work in his favor. 

In any event, some people already believe there will be no conventions this year for either party — or at least, no in-person gatherings of the parties to rally around a nominee. We can be certain that elections will happen — anything less would result in an unprecedented constitutional crisis. Not even the Civil War prevented elections from taking place. But it’s also likely that nothing about this year’s elections will be normal. Despite Democrats’ failure to commandeer state election procedures in their coronavirus relief proposal, it is still likely that many changes will be made — for example, in order to facilitate and encourage mail-balloting. 

Campaigns this fall could be largely devoid of big public gatherings — an enormous departure from the historical norm. Television and digital advertising, already important, will become even more so.

Wisconsin Supreme Court: As of Sunday, this election was on. And if Justice Dan Kelly doesn’t win on Tuesday, then Wisconsin Republicans will look rather foolish for having insisted on holding the election as scheduled during the period when coronavirus’s spread is expected to reach its peak.

Then again, there weren’t really that many options. This was not like the Ohio primary — it also serves as a general election for several offices. If this election had been delayed, then multiple local and state offices — for example, the mayoralty of Milwaukee — would have been left vacant.

As matters stand, it’s quite impossible to say who is going to show up and vote, or who might win the big prize of the day — Kelly’s supreme court seat. But the belief in the state that Kelly is winning is born out by Republicans’ reluctance to delay the election and Democrats’ eagerness to do so. It is worth noting that Democrats have gone nuts with late spending in this race, throwing well over $1 million behind Jill Karofsky in the late weeks of the election. They may believe that more time will help them pull off the upset. 

We noted previously that this race would put the parties’ 2020 machinery to the test. But now it could also tell us something about the two parties’ relative ability to adapt to challenging and unique circumstances and get voters to the polls in spite of them. 

Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, tried to straddle the fence, at first insisting on having the election go forward and then trying to scupper it or impose a whole new set of rules at the last minute. In this, he failed, and unlike in Ohio, he lacks the authority to cancel the election. With many poll workers reluctant to work amid the coronavirus plague, he has ordered the National Guard to man the polls. A federal judge has declined to interfere with the scheduled election date. There has been an effort in the media to portray the procedure as “chaotic,” with that word “chaos” appearing repeatedly in media outlets. This might indicate that an attempt is being made in advance to delegitimize the outcome.

A Karofsky win would leave the court with a 4-3 conservative majority, putting the Left one election away from reclaiming control of the state’s high court. A Kelly win — still probably the most likely outcome, although by no means guaranteed in the current unusual climate — means the continuation of a 5-2 conservative majority.