Tuesday, August 24, 2021

BTRTN: Can't Understand DeSantis and Abbott? Permanent Covid is Good for Republicans

The recent actions of the Republican governors of Florida and Texas are nothing short of stupefying. As the Delta variant rages in their states, Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott are aggressively taking stands against masking and vaccine mandates. Steve thinks there is an obvious explanation for their incongruous stances.


The latest convo topic on the bi-monthly college buddy Zoom cocktail hour is “Permanent Covid:” the growing belief that there will never be an “end” to Covid, and that our lives – and those of our children and grandchildren -- are destined to be permanently afflicted and constricted by a virus that will never go away.

One theory is that “Permanent Covid” will essentially lock in conditions, behaviors, and practices as they are settling in today. States that currently enjoy high vaccination rates will continue to be safer, and yet ironically more prudent.  Guided by science, these generally Blue states will continue to periodically re-impose masking and social distancing protocols to contain the virus during periods of increased risk. In Blue America, the pandemic will be managed much like a chronic illness is in an individual organism… through medication, behavioral modification, and vigilance.  

Meanwhile, the states that have low vaccination rates may benefit to a small degree from warmer climates, but will generally continue to voluntarily opt for higher rates of transmission rates, hospitalization, and death rather than take the steps necessary to contain the virus.

The refusal of the major population blocks in these states to submit to vaccination could create a breeding ground for an endless flow of variants, with some proving to be ever more virulent and contagious than the last.

Unless travel is restricted between states – a step that should now be seriously considered -- the failure to control the virus in the low vaccination areas will effectively cement a state of “Permanent Covid” for the entire nation. Of course, the nation must simultaneously ramp up efforts to contain Covid on a global basis, or risk Permanent Covid resulting from the spread of variants rising in low-vaccination countries.

There is no mystery about where the opposition to vaccination in the United States is concentrated: all you have to do is look at the most current data on Covid cases. The American South represents 34% of the U.S. population, but a whopping 56% of the weekly Covid cases. Sure, look at the vaccination rates by states, too – as we did in a recent post – as you will see that all the Southern states lag the U.S. average in vaccination.

                % Weekly Cases             % Pop        % Case/ Pop

West                 20                                24                    86

Midwest            14                                22                    65

South                56                                34                  162

Northeast           9                                 19                    48

Pick the data apart further, and you find a literally sickening statistic. Simply rank, top to bottom, the percentage of weekly Covid cases in the states that have a higher percentage of Covid cases than percentage of population. You see a national x-ray revealing the deep dark splotches of metastasized rejection of science. You see the Deep South.

                % Weekly Cases             % Pop        % Case/ Pop

Florida                18.1                               6.5                    278

Texas                   9.9                                8.7                    114  

Georgia                3.9                               3.2                    122

Tennessee           3.7                               2.1                     176

North Carolina     3.5                               3.2                     109

Louisiana             3.1                               1.4                     221

Alabama              3.0                               1.5                     200

Mississippi          2.9                                0.9                     322

Arizona               2.3                                2.2                     105

South Carolina    2.2                                1.6                    138

Oklahoma           1.8                                1.2                    150


You would think, of course – and hope and pray, while you are at it – that those states are doing everything in their power to control the killing wave that is surging through their populations.

They are not. They are doing pretty much the opposite.

The governors of Florida and Texas are waging war against mask mandates, haughtily dismissing the notion that an individual local school board has the right to implement a mask mandate as a means of mitigating transmission risk in their local school system.

Read the full text of DeSantis’s July 30 “Executive Order Ensuring Parents’ Freedom To Choose,” which contains these justifications for banning any school district from implementing a mask mandate:

WHEREAS, masking children may lead to negative health and societal ramifications; and, WHEREAS, studies have shown that children are at a low risk of contracting a serious illness due to COVID-19 and do not play a significant role in the spread of the virus; and WHEREAS, forcing children to wear masks could inhibit breathing, lead to the collection of dangerous impurities including bacteria, parasites, fungi, and other contaminants, and adversely affect communications in the classroom and student performance…”

This proclamation would seem to place DeSantis at the head of an odd “virus freedom” movement designed to ensure the right of the coronavirus is spread as widely and rapidly as possible, unfettered by government or scientific interference. Nowhere to be found in the Executive Order is a “WHEREAS” that mentions that children can and very much do get infected with this deadly virus, can and do bring it home, and can and do spread it to parents, grandparents, and adults who with compromised health conditions. On Friday, DeSantis upped the ante, pushing a plan to actually withhold state educational funds from municipalities that implemented mask mandates in their local schools.

Further evidencing his perversely political view of his own state’s precarious Covid situation, DeSantis recently directed this decidedly weird equivalency at Joe Biden:

“Why don’t you do your job, why don’t you get this border secure and until you do that, I don’t want to hear a blip about COVID from you,” the governor fired at Biden on August 3. What was his point? That immigration is a greater crisis than a pandemic that has killed over 600,000 Americans? Or – huh? -- that immigration was causing the rampant spread of Covid in Florida? Perhaps Ron DeSantis has access to Donald Trump’s map-altering Sharpie, but Florida is bordered by two U.S. States, an ocean, and a gulf of denial. Immigration – illegal or not – is not the explanation for why Florida has 18% of our nation’s Covid cases but only 6.5% of the population.

In a monument to hypocrisy, DeSantis appeared unaware that at the exact time he was declaring that he “did not want to hear a blip about COVID” from Biden, his own state had requested 200 ventilators from the Federal government. It’s fun to watch the video of DeSantis as he is first made aware of this fact by a reporter. DeSantis bears more than a casual physical resemblance to Fred Flintstone, and his hubada hubada response to the reporter’s question really makes you wonder if Florida is led by the patriarch of a modern stone age family.

Then there is the hypocrisy of DeSantis vigorously arguing that Federal policy and guidelines are not relevant or even welcome given some assertion of the unique conditions in Florida, while simultaneously issuing state edicts commanding that local municipalities have no right to determine their own local policies. Centralized policy and practice is apparently only ok if it is centralized under DeSantis’s command.

Hey, Ron, fine -- maybe all municipalities in Florida should be governed by a single policy on masking… you picked the wrong one! State policy should be to allow every municipality to institute a mask mandate if they believe that their local hospital ICUs are at the breaking point.  

Why, you ask, are the governors of Texas and Florida using their bully pulpits to bully doctors and scientists rather that fight a raging pandemic?

Sadly, it is becoming clear that Permanent Covid is very good politics for Republicans, who apparently see a lot of upside to a raging pandemic that preys most upon the poorest among us. It happens that the governors of Texas and Florida are two hyper-ambitious politicians who are eying 2024 and know that the path to the Republican nomination passes directly through Trump’s base. Permanent Covid is one key to successfully navigating that path.

There are five reasons why the Republican Party may believe that it benefits from the continuation of a horrendous pandemic that could be beaten if the Republicans actually wanted to.

1. Simply put, a permanent pandemic is bad for Joe Biden… and therefore good for Republicans.

In Joe Biden’s first six months in office, he was able to gear up production and distribution of the Covid vaccines far more rapidly than anyone had expected. As the nation rapidly signed up and lined up for the vaccines, Biden’s approval ratings were strong… particularly relative to Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

Biden now refers to Covid 19 as the “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” which is essentially labeling it the “pandemic of the Red States.” But it doesn’t matter if Republicans are largely responsible for protracting the pandemic…the failure to end the pandemic will have happened on Biden’s watch.

So Republicans may be making a simple calculation: the longer the pandemic rages, the more trouble it causes for Biden… the better the Republican chances in the mid-terms and in 2024.

2. The Delta variant will seriously erode economic recovery.

This is simply the economic implication of point #1. The upside is obvious: the more we eradicate Covid, the more the economy will roar back to life. A vital economy makes Joe Biden look good. The Republicans watched as the economy took off in the first months of the Biden administration, as businesses and investors throttled up in anticipation of a return to normalcy.

Republicans know that the health of the economy almost always is the most important factor voters use when casting ballots. Republicans can’t let Biden have a vibrant economy if they want to take back Congress and the White House.

So the health of the economy is another good reason for Republicans to fight masking and vaccine mandates… the more Delta roars, the worse the economy fares, and the harder it becomes for Democrats to retain Congress and the White House.

Moreover, it doesn’t take much to predict how the Republicans play this particular game of “heads I win, tails, you lose.” Just watch DeSantis in the coming months. If the economic recovery stalls, he will blame Biden and the Federal government's Covid restrictions -- not the virus itself -- as the reason for economic malaise. 

Of course, if the economy remains in an upward trajectory, he will ascribe success to the policies of Southern governors who removed all the Covid restrictions on the theory that their economies would thrive. 

3.  Donald Trump has actually found a way to link Permanent Covid to the “Big Lie,” and support his assertion that Joe Biden’s Presidency is not legitimate.

Just weeks ago, on July 18, Trump declared that “Joe Biden kept talking about how good of a job he's doing on the distribution of the vaccine that was developed by Operation Warp Speed or, quite simply, the Trump Administration. He's not doing well at all. He's way behind schedule, and people are refusing to take the vaccine because they don't trust his administration, they don't trust the election results, and they certainly don't trust the fake news, which is refusing to tell the truth."

Wow. According to Trump, the low rate of vaccination in the South is somehow further "proof" that the election was rigged. With this mind-blowing assertion, Trump can support three different politically advantageous narratives at once: (1) he grabs all the credit for developing the vaccine, (2) he claims that the failure of Southerners to take the vaccine is because they don’t believe Biden is the legitimate President of the United States, (3) he therefore can blame Permanent Covid on Biden.

Trump has been trying to play both sides of the vaccine war for a year, taking full credit for its development, while and now offering this looney explanation to justify the behavior of the anti-vaxxers in his base. His double talk is wearing thin: on Saturday, August 23, Trump urged the crowd at an Alabama rally to “take the vaccines,” and he was booed. That embarrassing video careened around the internet for a news cycle. Think Trump will ever again encourage his supporters to get vaccinated? He'd rather stick with permanent Covid than risk another humiliation like that.

4. Republicans care more about their messaging than about the health of their own voters.

Some readers will say that the thesis of this article is flawed, as intentionally protracting Covid in Red States would inevitably lead to more disease and death among Republicans than Democrats, right? Indeed, in private conversations, one hears a disbelieving, stunned amazement – “don’t these Republican governors realize that they are killing their own voters? Won’t Southerners realize that their governors are recklessly creating circumstances that will lead to the needless deaths of their daughters, sons, moms, dads, grandparents, and young children?”

Who would do that?

Well, Ron DeSantis would. Think about it.

I suspect that Ron DeSantis thinks that the decline in the number of Republican voters due to Covid deaths is not going to make as big a difference in the outcome of most elections in the South… and certainly not as much impact as his spirited anti-Washington, anti-Biden, antebellum rhetoric will help his cause.

But we actually needn’t go there. DeSantis is hedging his bets.  He steered Covid vaccines to his rich Republican buddies, creating a distribution strategy for the vaccines that made it more rapidly available and accessible to his Republican donors than to poorer sections of Florida that would lean Democratic. DeSantis was accused of setting up “pop up vaccination sites” in retirement communities that housed the donor class, essentially directing then-limited vaccine supplies to the well-to-do whites that he counts on for contributions.

So DeSantis is making sure that his Republican cronies get the vaccine first… and then attempts to shut down masking mandates intended to protect the less fortunate citizens.

5. By far the most important: in the coronavirus pandemic, the Republicans have found the perfect vessel for the ultimate culture war.

What we witness today in the “Covid-19 culture wars” are simply wildly different – and in some cases, dangerously foolish -- definitions of “freedom.”

Southern Republicans have somehow come to believe that the “freedom” they are guaranteed in the Constitution is freedom from government. Somehow, they have accomplished the pretzel of logic that the very government to which they pledge allegiance is promising them freedom from any limit to that freedom imposed by that very government.

Yes, our Constitution has a Bill of Rights, which secures important individual protections from interference by government. But to hear the braying south of the Mason Dixon line today, you’d think that the only purpose of the Constitution is to allow individuals to do whatever they damn please. Somehow, southerners have come to believe that it is their inalienable right to freely exhale a deadly virus into the faces of fellow citizens, and think that a requirement to wear a mask to reduce the risk of such a transmission is a violation of their freedom.

This view of freedom – now championed by the governor of Florida -- is a shallow, sophomoric, and immature definition.

A broader and more measured grasp of “freedom” is to realize that the freedoms in our Constitution are not merely preservation of individual rights from government, but our obligation as citizens to preserve the collective freedom of self-government. We are defending our nation from its enemies, foreign and domestic, who would steal that freedom.  

In contrast to the Southern Republican definition of freedom, Democrats seem to understand that we occasionally must accept that our individual freedoms are curtailed for the common good. Yes, the government is allowed to curtail individual freedom for the good of the society. You are not allowed to go to a bar, get sloppy drunk, run your car into the other lane and kill a pregnant woman and her baby. Want your kid to go to school? Yes, there are required vaccines. Is Adolf Hitler threatening to attack New York City? Yep, the U.S. government is going to put a gun in your hand and tell you to kill people.

Now please... tell me again about your belief that your government has no right to curtail your individual freedom in order to achieve a greater good and protect our collective freedom?

The government isn’t always right. Hey, if you didn’t agree with the war in Vietnam, you didn’t have to fight in it. You could try to secure a “conscientious objector” deferment, you could make a stand for civil disobedience and opt for jail time rather than military service, or you could – as many young men did – leave the country and seek asylum in Canada.

But you don’t get to say, “I want to enjoy all the benefits of citizenship in the United States of America but I don’t accept the requirements of that citizenship.”

Fortunately for Ron DeSantis, Republicans in the South don’t seem to think that hard, and prefer the sophomoric notion that freedom is just another word for nothing you must lose. Down South, freedom means my kid can bring his asymptomatic Covid-19 into your kid’s classroom, infect you, the teacher’s aging parent, and maybe even kill the neighbor’s ten-year-old as part of the package.

It’s horrendous, but boy oh boy, does Covid-19 provide the Republicans with Red State red meat talking points.

Being required by the government to take a vaccine? The government forcing my kid to wear a mask? The government trying to tell me that I must stand six feet away from the lady in front of me in the line at CVS?  Who the hell do these crazy radical commies think they are?

If this nation were to get the coronavirus under control, the Republicans would lose one of the most important and emotional culture war talking points they have in their arsenal. And if the coronavirus were to be tamed by a Democratic administration, that would be an electoral disaster.

Ron DeSantis wants to run for President in 2024, and he needs Donald Trump’s base to accomplish that. So fighting the culture war is far, far, far more important to him than dealing with the fact that Florida has 18% of our nation’s Covid cases but only 6.5% of the population.

And, yeah… that does mean that Florida will have three times the death rate as the rest of the country just so that Ron can preserve his talking points.

Some people will read this post and accuse me of an incalculable cynicism, accusing me of implying that Republicans allow Americans to die needlessly in order to achieve political objectives.

I most certainly am not implying that.

I am saying that, out loud, unambiguously, and emphatically.

That is exactly what Donald Trump did in his final year of the Presidency.

Donald Trump pretended that the virus was not dangerous, would magically disappear, and could be treated at home by ingesting bleach, all so that Americans would not listen to the scientists and doctors who were urging lockdowns, masks, and social distancing. Trump was desperately hoping that by minimizing the pandemic, there would be less disruption to the economy, which he viewed to be the key to his re-election.The result? Hundreds of thousands of Americans died needlessly, all sacrificed by Trump to better his chances of re-election.

Yes, I am accusing Republicans – then Trump, now DeSantis and Abbott -- of allowing Americans to die needlessly in order to achieve personal political objectives.

I am not the cynic here. The unfathomable cynic in this story is Ron DeSantis. You see, he is far from a stupid person. Tough-talking man-of-the-people Ron DeSantis went to Yale undergrad and Harvard Law. He knows full well the true meaning of “freedom” in a democracy, but he is shamelessly parroting the dumbed down, sophomoric, and utterly selfish notion that “freedom” means “freedom from government” so that he can stroke Trump’s base into a lather. 

Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott are just acting on Trump’s playbook.

The truth is that America is not fighting the coronavirus. We are fighting over it. The Republicans know that we could wrangle it to submission in months if we achieved national vaccination rates in the 75% range, and adhered to sensible masking and social distancing until vaccination rates are achieved and herd immunity is realized.

And then, yes, we would then have to turn our attention to helping the world’s nearly 8 billion people achieve the same level of safety and protection. In a nation -- and a world -- of bigotry, prejudice, and tribalism, the coronavirus alone seems to truly see no differences between all human beings. Preventing Permanent Covid in the United States is just a small step toward fending off Global Permanent Covid.

But good luck even achieving herd immunity simply in the United States if it is not really what Republicans want.

And that, friends, is one too many ironies in the fire.

You see, the only reason that Republicans claim to believe in “freedom from government” is so they can get back in control of it.


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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

BTRTN: 78-Year-Old Joe Biden Plays the Long Game

Tom with the BTRTN July 2021 Month in Review.

The conventional wisdom is so accepted by the Democratic Party, particularly by its progressive wing, that it is hard to notice there is other competing wisdom out there.  The accepted wisdom is that Joe Biden really has only two years – actually, now only 17 months -- to accomplish anything.  Come the midterms, he will lose the House and the Senate, and however slowly the government’s gears are moving now, they will grind to a halt once the GOP controls even just one house of Congress.  Therefore, goes the narrative, Biden must go deep and go fast, and whatever norms stand in the way – notably the hallowed Senate filibuster – must be cast aside.

On the surface, it is a compelling narrative.  It is a fact that first-term presidents fare notoriously poorly in their mid-terms – over the last 50 years, they have lost, on average, 27 seats in the House.  Biden has the thinnest of margins in both chambers, with only a 3-vote majority in the House and no margin at all in the Senate, save Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaker.  And not only is history at work, but GOP local legislatures are rewriting election laws to disenfranchise minorities, who tend to vote Democratic, with impunity, and more gerrymandering based on the 2020 census is just around the corner.  It is, indeed, a stark set of facts for 2022.

The only trouble with this narrative is that Joe Biden does not appear to believe in it.  Instead Biden, rather surprisingly given his advanced age, is the one playing the long game:  he wants to win the midterms in 2022, hold on to both houses of Congress, and win reelection in 2024, and he is pretty darned convinced that blowing up DC as we know it is not the way to go.  And, right or wrong, this conviction -- his wisdom, not the conventional one -- informs every single decision he is making.  

Biden’s unspoken thesis is, essentially, that first-time presidents are not fated to lose their first midterms; their dismal track record has been earned, and can be avoided.  Bill Clinton flubbed out of the gate with his gays in the military fiasco and the failure of his health care initiative, which led to a 54-seat drubbing in 1994.  Barack Obama may have saved the economy, but he rammed through his own health care triumph without a single GOP vote, undersold his own accomplishment, and then had to wait years before the ACA became popular; he was tagged with a whopping 63-seat loss in 2012.  And Donald Trump wasted no time in demonstrating to the Hillary-haters in the middle that there was no substance to his simplistic mantras, and the non-stop lying led to a loss of 42 seats in 2018.

Biden wants to avoid all that.  He can point to George W. Bush who, you may recall, expertly handled the early days of the 9/11 crisis, and managed to pick up 8 seats in 2002, well before he squandered his political capital on the senseless Iraq War.  If nothing else, Bush proved that if you manage a colossal crisis well, you will be rewarded.

Biden has his crises – COVID, of course, and the resultant economic slump – and he also has his opportunity to re-shape America.  But his entire game – his entire game – is to keep the Far Left at bay while not losing the middle.  He is not betting the ranch on shelving the filibuster and pushing through a $6 trillion makeover of the U.S. economy.  Instead, he is going to negotiate for the best deal he can get that Middle America can live with.  He cannot pretend he has the mandate the FDR and LBJ had; he has to take what he can get.

Sweeping progressive change has happened twice in our nation’s history, with FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society.  In both cases, the president’s party held massive majorities.  FDR had 57 to 76 Democratic senators (out of 96) during his years in office, and 261 to 333 Democratic representatives (out of 435), except for his last year when his House majority was a little thinner.  LBJ had 64 to 68 Senators (out of 100), and 247 to 295 House members in his time in office.  Both were also enormously popular at the time they were attempting to transform America, with LBJ well into the 60% range up until 1966 (Gallup did not have measurements in FDR’s time but his three winning re-election efforts speak for themselves.)  They did both have to deal with cranky Dixiecrats, but the numbers were on their side.

It is almost a certainty that Joe Biden wants to stand alongside FDR and LBJ in the mythical Mt. Rushmore of sweeping progressive legislation that offered basic protections for the underserved and leveled the playing field for all.  He too wants what Bernie Sanders wants, on the substance.  But he lives in a different time and has to find a different path to the pantheon.  His game plan is to rack up a string of successes, ride that record into the midterms (and ultimately reelection) and do more with those mandates and the breathing room a few pickups would afford.  That record he envisions before the midterms would include:  the American Rescue Plan, the bipartisan hard filibuster bill, a skinnied-down version of the soft infrastructure reconciliation bill (say, in the $2 trillion range, not the current $3.5 trillion), taming COVID through aggressive vaccination promotion, stoking the roaring economic recovery fire and avoiding war.  That’s the ticket.  Peace, prosperity, freedom from COVID and some major progressive legislation.

The bottom line with the filibuster is, he does not have the votes.  You may only hear about Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, but if it ever came to the floor, there are surely other Democratic Senators that are loathe to cast a vote against the filibuster, the ones who represent purple states.  I can guarantee that whomever carries the Democratic banner for the Senate in 2022 to flip Pennsylvania (where Pat Toomey is retiring), North Carolina (Richard Burr), Ohio (Rob Portman) and Wisconsin (perhaps Ron Johnson) will not be championing the demise of the filibuster, nor will Mark Kelly in Arizona or Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire as they defend their seats against tough GOP challengers.  Even the modified versions of filibuster reform, such as “carving out” voting rights, do not appear to have Democratic support from the party’s centrist wing.

Biden’s management of the two major issues in the month of July demonstrate his fealty to the middle.  The first was the reemergence of COVID, just a few weeks after the CDC announced its ill-advised “masks on the honor system” policy and Biden’s ill-timed July 4 COVID Independence Day victory lap.  Both were premature, which should have been obvious at the time since COVID cases, driven by the new Delta variant, were rising by the end of June.  Those trends took off in July, as COVID cases tripled for the month, from 338,000 in June to over 1.1 million in July.

While Los Angeles County and other municipalities declared mask mandates to counter these sharp upswings, and a number of major employees essentially told workers to vax up or quit, Biden and the CDC each took more measured approaches.  The CDC issued guidelines that, while logical, were nearly impossible for the average citizen to navigate, calling for masks to be worn indoors in “high transmission” states.  They also initially failed to release the data that was the basis for the mask guidance, which showed that vaccinated people with breakthrough cases shed as much of the virus as unvaccinated people.

Biden continued to exhort for vaccinations, and imposed mask-wearing on federal employees, including the military, but only went so far as to say that those who were not vaccinated faced weekly testing, rather than dismissal.  Clearly, Biden is wary of “the ‘M’ word” and will avoid “mandates” at all cost – and it is that swing voter that he has in mind.

Biden’s entire approach to the American Jobs Plan, a.k.a. the hard infrastructure bill, has been to find a middle ground.  His bi-partisan approach has been scoffed at by strange bedfellows on both the right (Trump himself) and the left (AOC among others, though not the suddenly pragmatic Bernie Sanders).  Once again, Manchin holds the cards by declaring that, after the American Rescue Plan, he would not support any more trillion-dollar spending bills passing along party-line reconciliation votes.  Biden thus has been dancing this middle ground of pursuing infrastructure talks along two tracks, the bipartisan “hard” infrastructure bill (highways, bridges and the like) and the Dem-only “soft” infrastructure bill (involving more “human” services such universal pre-K education, child care subsidies, free community college, extended child tax credits, extended family leave, climate change and health initiatives, and more).

His approach is inching ever closer to success, with 17 GOP Senators, along with the entire 50 Senator Democratic caucus, voting for cloture, enabling the bill to come to the Senate floor, presumably with 60 supporters overall.  If it gets passed in the Senate, it will face a challenge in the House from the progressives, who may make demands that cannot survive a return to the Senate.  But if Biden does get this bill passed, and the Democratic one as well, it will be a legendary accomplishment by the ultimate Washington insider, and would boost his presidency and his party’s case in the midterms.

Per those midterms, the Democrats do have some structural advantages that provide some counterweight to those nefarious GOP election laws, gerrymandering gamesmanship and the historical record.  In short, there are four:  Biden is popular (52% approval rating, a net of +9), his policies are popular (on most every issue, the majority of Americans are with him); demographics, which continue to steadily move blue; and Donald Trump, who continues to divide the GOP and divert them from their overall message (which is focusing not on the Big Lie, but on big spending Dems who are weak on crime and immigration) in any kind of unified manner.  Trump and his threatened return also keep Democrats highly energized.  These are not insubstantial factors.  And one other thing – in the Senate, the GOP is having trouble finding great candidates to replace those retirees.

All of this is not to say that Biden’s strategy is inherently correct.  The point is – that’s his strategy, and he is sticking to it. 

That is, if he can somehow tame the Delta variant, which, at this point, is actually his strongest opponent, by far.



In the Biden era, this madness is largely confined to storylines and antics around the former president, of which there were quite a few this month.

·        It was revealed that last December Trump specifically asked Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to participate actively in the Big Lie, with the memorable directive: “  Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me” 

·        The Department of Justice directed the Treasury Department to release Trump’s tax returns to Congress.  No surprise, Trump is fighting it in court.

·        Yet another Trump associate, Thomas Barrack, was indicted.

·        New books revealed all sort of Trump machinations and quotes, including Trump dishing on Brett Kavanaugh for his ingratitude in not backing the Big Lie: “Where would he be without me?  I saved his life. He wouldn't even be in a law firm. Who would have had him? Nobody. Totally disgraced. Only I saved him."

·        Trump has raised over $100 million to fund legal efforts in support of the Big Lie, and has spent very little of it.

·        The Democrats began their House special inquiry into January 6, with riveting testimony from four police officers, and no GOP members loyal to Trump serving on the committee.  It appears that once again Nancy Pelosi outmaneuvered Kevin McCarthy.

The madness continues.



Joe Biden’s approval rating was unchanged in July, and his net held at +9.  These are still reasonably impressive ratings in these partisan times.  Trump never achieved the 50% level or a net positive any week in his four years in office.


Not surprisingly, Biden showed slight slippage in both his handling of COVID (given the resurgence, as well as fallout from confusing CDC guidance) as well as views that the country is on the “right track.”  Biden continues to outperform Trump’s last marks on all measures save the economy, where he matches him.   

While the “right track” measure has fallen a few notches in each of the last two months, it remains far higher than where Trump left it in January, increasing from 20% to 39% under Biden.


The “Bidenometer” remained virtually unchanged in July, moving from +64 in June to +65.  There was very little movement in any of our five measures for the month.  The new GDP number of Q2 was slightly ahead of the Q1 pace.

As a reminder, this measure is designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  We reset the Bidenometer at this Inaugural to zero, so that we better demonstrate whether the economy performs better (a positive number) or worse (a negative number) under Biden than what he inherited from the Trump Administration.

With a Bidenometer of +65, the economy is clearly performing much better under Biden versus where Trump left it.

This exclusive BTRTN measure is comprised of five indicative data points:  the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP.  The measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from the inaugural to the present time.

Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, you can see from the chart below that under Clinton the measure ended at +55.  It declined from +55 to only +8 under Bush, who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery.  Under Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of it.  Now we have seen it move upward to +65 under Biden.


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Notes on methodology:

BTRTN calculates our monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.

For the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

The Trumpometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Biden Inaugural on January 20, 2021, on an average percentage change basis. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump took office.  The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline and the GDP.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

BTRTN: The Obvious Solution... The Donald J. Trump MAGA COVID-19 Vaccine, Safe and Effective for Republicans Only!

Joe Biden said that states should offer $100 as an incentive for people to get the COVID-19 shot. Steve has a far less expensive -- and likely far more effective – idea. It that takes advantage of a heretofore untapped but very powerful resource: the blind loyalty and boundless ignorance of Trump supporters.


You can feel it in the air. It is palpable. Vaccinated America is fed up with unvaccinated America.

New York City and California lowered the boom on government employees, announcing that all workers must be either vaccinated or undergo frequent COVID testing.

A host of major corporations, including Google, Facebook, Netflix, BlackRock, and Morgan Stanley, announced requirements that all on-site employees must present proof of vaccination.  Going the full measure: The Durst Organization, a real estate firm in New York City, announced that employees who are not vaccinated by September 6 will be fired.

Sounds encouraging, huh?

The problem is that you are likely to only “feel it in the air” if you live in what is already a progressive stronghold. Most of the examples of companies that are setting strict vaccination rules are organizations found on the coasts, in the bluest of Blue states. Even Joe Biden’s new mandate to Federal government employees is a proclamation from a Democratic President.

Once again, we encounter the harsh irony of COVID: the states that are taking all the right steps are the states that have the far less egregious problem.

Down in the Anti-Science, Anti-Social, Anti-Vaxxer, Anti-Biden, Antebellum States of America, you see a remarkably different picture.  

If you stare at the data, the correlation between the percentage of people who are now fully vaccinated and the percentage who voted for Joe Biden is astonishing. To illustrate the point, we picked ten states that are above the national vaccination rate of 49.4%, and ten states that are below it. The state-by-state correlation between vaccination rates and Biden votes is mind-blowing:

Ten States Above National Fully-Vaccinated Percent (49.4)

                                        % Vote for Biden 2020             % Fully Vaccinated, July 2021

Massachusetts                             65.6                                 63.4

Connecticut                                  59.3                                 62.6

Rhode Island                                59.4                                60.7

New Jersey                                  57.3                                 57.4

New York                                     60.9                                 56.3                   

Virginia                                         54.1                                 53.8

Colorado                                       55.4                                 53.8

Minnesota                                     52.4                                 53.3

Pennsylvania                                50.0                                 51.6

Wisconsin                                     49.4                                 51.3


Ten States Below National Fully Vaccinated Percent (49.4)

                                        % Vote for Biden 2020             % Fully Vaccinated, July 2021

Florida                                          47.9                                 48.1

Ohio                                             44.9                                 46.0

Alaska                                          42.8                                 45.1

Indiana                                          41.0                                 43.7

Missouri                                        41.6                                 40.5

South Carolina                             43.4                                 40.1

Tennessee                                   37.5                                 38.6

Wyoming                                      26.6                                 36.2

Arkansas                                      42.8                                 35.6

Mississippi                                    41.1                                 34.0

Alabama                                       36.6                                 33.9

This kind of data makes Blue State blood boil. You see, progressives believe in science, and therefore understand that if people in Red States refuse to be vaccinated, they become petri dishes for further mutation of the virus, which could lead to new variants that actually defy the efficacy of current vaccines… putting us all back at square one, in total lockdown, until new vaccines can be developed.

It would be one thing – a sad thing, to be sure -- if Red State ignorance and politicization of science was only causing death and illness among its own citizens. But it is an entirely different thing when Red State contempt for the shared duties of citizenship results in a needless prolonging of a deadly pandemic that is constantly exported to Blue States through free and unfettered travel. When a majority of people in Alabama decide that they have no obligation to protect their fellow citizens, children in Connecticut are put at risk. Because of pockets of strident vaccination opposition, we may have to live with COVID-19 as a permanent factor in our lives.   

All to say: in the war against COVID-19, this country is only as protected as its least vaccinated state... and that is a sobering thought. Look at Alabama: months after free and easy access to a life-saving medicine, only one in three citizens has bothered to get the vaccine. Alabama, of course, was home to the heartbreaking story of vaccine ignorance relayed by Dr. Brytney Cobia from Birmingham:

“I’m admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections. One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”

Anti-vaxxers? These people do not even understand how a vaccine works. And every citizen in the United States is being asked to live at this standard of ignorance.

Perhaps more important, the people in these states who are opposed to taking the vaccine often hoist a notion of freedom and personal liberty as the defense for their decision. They do not seem to grasp that participation in a society means that the society may impose conditions – sometimes quite onerous – for the good of the whole. Many young people went to war in World War II because their government demanded it. Despite that fact the United States has suffered more deaths from COVID-19 than in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam war combined, these people do not seem to understand that we are in a war, and that they are being asked to make a very small sacrifice to help win a war. 

Of course, the state-by-state correlations noted send an undeniable message: the odds are high that the people who are refusing to get vaccinated voted for Donald Trump.

If the United States wants to achieve herd immunity, it must somehow convince this huge block of Trump-supporting anti-vaxxers to get on board and say yes to the prick.

Say yes to the prick. Hmmm… hey, that gives me an idea!

How can we get Donald Trump himself to aggressively urge his followers to get the vaccine?

It’s not like Donald Trump is an anti-vaxxer. Far from. Fun fact: Donald Trump fashions himself as the grand creator of the vaccines. 

Throughout his bungling of the COVID crisis, Donald Trump aggressively sought to take claim for his administration’s one achievement: Trump credited his “Operation Warp Speed” with bringing a COVID-19 vaccine to market faster than anyone had expected.

Trump was unambiguously pro-vaccine when he was campaigning in 2020. On July 18, 2020, he bragged (inaccurately, of course) that “we expect to have 100 million doses of vaccine available before the end of the year and maybe much sooner than that.” Trump frequently made the promise that the vaccines would be ready before election day.

Sure, the vaccine was hardly Trump’s doing, as Pfizer did not even participate in Operation Warp Speed, and it is hard to give Trump a gold star for vaccine development when his administration so comprehensively botched the government response to the pandemic, ignoring the scientists, pretended the virus would “magically disappear,” advocating quack remedies, and, in his neglect, causing the needless death of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Even when discussing the vaccine itself, we must note that Trump didn’t give a sliver of thought to manufacturing, logistics, or distribution.

But let’s be generous and say, sure, Donald, take some credit for helping to bring these life-saving medicines to fruition.


In relatively small, uncelebrated moments, Trump has urged his followers to get the vaccine. On March 16, 2021, Trump did an interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox, and said this: “I would recommend it. And I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly… It’s a great vaccine, and it’s really safe.” A month later, Trump characterized the vaccines as a “real lifesaver.”

Unfortunately, those moments of lucidity came to an end when Trump finally figured out how to tie the vaccine opposition of his supporters to the “Big Lie.” Just weeks ago, on July 18, Trump declared that “Joe Biden kept talking about how good of a job he's doing on the distribution of the vaccine that was developed by Operation Warp Speed or, quite simply, the Trump Administration. He's not doing well at all. He's way behind schedule, and people are refusing to take the vaccine because they don't trust his administration, they don't trust the election results, and they certainly don't trust the fake news, which is refusing to tell the truth."

So Trump is attempting to preserve his claim to have created the vaccines, is not questioning their efficacy, and is justifying the unwillingness of his supporters to be vaccinated by claiming that their skepticism is a direct outcome of their doubt about the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election win.


For all you hear about Republicans being terrified of Trump’s base, never forget that the Republican who is most terrified of Trump’s base is Trump himself. That is why you don’t hear Trump talking too much about the vaccine issue: just a few months ago, he was screaming to be given all the credit for the development of the vaccines. Now, he sees his own voters rebelling against the vaccines as one more example of progressive socialist incursions on individual rights, and his silence is deafening. Trump is terrified of getting on the wrong side of his own base, because he knows that all his power resides in channeling their anti-government, racist, white supremacist, and xenophobic rage.

Friends, there is a win-win-win here. An answer that is as simple as can be.

All we have to do is leverage Trump's essential greed and understand the essential Trump business model of licensing.

Donald Trump has made millions of dollars, year in and year out, by licensing the Trump brand name to other businesses… Trump Steaks, Trump University, Trump Vodka, in addition to the many golf clubs and resorts. Give the man a way to make easy cash and he can’t resist it.

O.k., let's go with it. Why not have him hawk Trump Vaccine? 

More precisely: Donald J. Trump Super-Safe and Effective MAGA COVID-19 Vaccine, Formulated for Republicans Only!

Yes, Democrats... it is time to put the greed of Trump and the ignorance of his base to work in the battle against COVID-19. Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer should offer Donald Trump a financial incentive to push his own licensed brand of vaccine. Challenge Trump to sell “Trump Vaccine” in the 25 Red States that (1) have vaccination rates below the national average, and (2) voted for Trump in 2020.

In those 25 states, sell the exact same Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that are available throughout the US, but ship the vials with a different label only… Donald J. Trump Super-Safe and Effective MAGA COVID-19 Vaccine, Formulated for Republicans Only!

Then, let’s create the incentive for Donald Trump to aggressively market the vaccine to his base. Some simple math shows that a total of roughly 141 million Americans live in those 25 states. Let’s say that it takes 75% of the population to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. That means that in order to achieve herd immunity in these Trump states, a total of 106 million people need to be vaccinated…an additional 45 million more than the 60 million that have already been vaccinated in these states.

Let’s tell Donald Trump that he gets fifty cents for every person who gets the Donald J. Trump vaccine.

Yeah, that’s right. If Donald Trump can convince 45 million Americans in deep Red States to take the vaccine. That would mean we’d need just 20% more vaccinated adults out of the 180 million Americans who live in the remainder of the states to achieve herd immunity… and we'd have the pandemic at bay in the United States. Then, we can our full focus to assisting the rest of the world in the fight.

So, at 50 cents per vaccination in 25 Red States, we’d pay Donald Trump $23 million.

Should we make that deal? In a heartbeat.

$23 million to reach herd immunity?  A drop in the bucket. A pittance. One of the best returns-on-investment in the history of mankind.

Hell, we should give him an additional $25,000,000 to advertise his vaccine in those 25 states, so that it happens as quickly as possible.

But wouldn’t that be politically a terrible mistake, you ask? To give Donald Trump credit for helping put America in control of the pandemic?

Crazy as it is, this deal would be a wildly one-sided win for the Democrats. The single most important thing for Joe Biden in 2022 and 2024 is a roaring economy, and clear sense that the pandemic is behind us. Trump may benefit from helping, but if this nutty scenario were to actually take place, it would help Biden and the Democrats exponentially more than Trump. Heck, it would come off as Biden taking the lead, and being willing to make the ultimate “bi-partisan” gesture for the sake of the country.

Letting Trump get free press in 25 states that he won in 2020? That are already wildly loyal to him? Who cares?

The best part? It would put Trump in a bind: if he refuses to help Biden, he would come off as unwilling to help end the pandemic. If he helps Biden and succeeds, we all win. And if he agrees to help Biden and doesn’t come near the goal, he is an ineffective loser.

It would also be fascinating for Trump’s base to watch as Trump tries to hawk the vaccine that they supposedly don’t trust. Do they believe Trump and get vaccinated? Great! Or do they refuse to believe Trump and have their trust in him shattered? Great!

And it’s interesting to think how such an offer would be internalized by one of the greediest, self-centered egomaniacs who ever walked the planet. He’d be turning down a huge branding opportunity. He’d be turning down big money. He’d be turning down an opportunity to be back in the spotlight. He'd be turning down the opportunity to shift the media focus away from his taxes, his many legal issues, and his role in January 6. And the only thing he would have to do is say something he is already saying… that his followers should take the vaccine, because it is safe and effective.

Oh, I know what you are thinking.

You think this idea would never work, because nobody would be ever believe Donald Trump if he said that there was such a thing as a safe, effective, Donald J. Trump MAGA Vaccine formulated for Republicans only.

Puh-lease, people!  We are talking about Republicans.

The people who think you can wait until you are being rolled into the ICU on a gurney and then decide to get the vaccine.

The people who voted for Trump after four years of unspeakable incompetence, deceit, racism, misogyny, and corruption.

These are the people who think January 6 was a "peaceful protest."

The people who believe the Big Lie.

Not believe Trump? There is pretty overwhelming proof that a significant percentage of Republicans will believe whatever crazy crap Donald Trump says just because he says it.

Folks, it’s time to take advantage of the fact that Donald Trump will lie to anyone – particularly his own supporters -- for greed and power.

It is time to take advantage of the fact that Republicans are will believe anything he says.

It is time to marshal the powerful forces of ignorance, stupidity, and greed to noble purpose.

Introducing Donald J. Trump Super-Safe and Effective MAGA COVID-19 Vaccine, Formulated for Republicans Only! 

For the sake of the health of our families, our seniors, our children, and their children, we need Republicans to once again say yes to the prick

 And get vaccinated, too.  


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