From The (Friday Talking Points) Archives -- The Reclosing Begins

[ Posted Friday, June 7th, 2024 – 16:04 UTC ]

Because it is Friday, we are re-running a Friday Talking Points column from four years ago. In June of 2020, the boundless optimism that the COVID-19 pandemic was receding and soon to be over was dealt a huge blow, as the second big wave proved to be even larger than the first. This wouldn't even be the worst wave of the pandemic, which was a long way in the future. But this was the first time Americans realized that this wasn't going to be some relatively-quick disruption of life and that we should instead buckle down for the long haul.

President Trump, at this point in time, had already proven how disastrous his attempts to lead the nation through the crisis truly were. Because to Trump, of course, none of it was about millions dying, the entire pandemic was, instead, a personal affront to him.

People have forgotten what 2020 was really like. Here's a reminder for everyone.

[Program Note: New columns will begin again on Monday! Thanks for your patience....]


Originally published June 26, 2020

America, led by President Donald Trump and (mostly) Republican governors across the country, launched a grand experiment a few months back. Rather than following guidelines and milestones recommended by top epidemiologists, each state would reopen its economy as it saw fit. If your governor felt comfortable enough with the state of things, then the doors would be thrown open. This all started just before Memorial Day weekend, when Trump decided he was bored with the pandemic. And now it's becoming pretty obvious that this experiment has failed, and failed badly. And tens of thousands of Americans are paying a very steep price for this exercise in unfounded optimism.

Nationally, new cases have spiked up to around 40,000 per day. That is far above where those numbers were back in February and March, the two worst months of the first wave of the pandemic. Individual states are being hit very hard, and I.C.U. hospital beds are filling up fast. It's gotten so bad that two of Trump's staunchest GOP governor buddies have now gone beyond just "pausing" the reopening schedule and are now moving backwards:

A pair of GOP governors on Friday moved to impose new mitigation measures in their states amid record numbers of new coronavirus infections, with both Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordering bars closed and Texas placing new restrictions on other businesses the governor said were linked to the virus's resurgence.

. . .

That both governors -- who are close allies of President Donald Trump and were criticized for resisting calls to lock down their states in the pandemic's early days -- have not only pressed pause on reopening but reimposed some restrictions, speaks to the severity of the outbreaks in two of the most populous states in the country.

. . .

The announcement came 24 hours after Abbott first ordered a pause on the state's reopening process, which began in May. The Texas governor on Thursday also halted elective surgeries in a handful of counties and backed down from an earlier directive that banned cities and counties from mandating residents wear face masks in public.

DeSantis, meanwhile, had indicated that he had no plans to move Florida into its next phase of reopening, while local hot spots weighed their own shutdowns and mask requirements. But the state added nearly 9,000 new cases Thursday, shattering its previous one-day record set only days earlier.

. . .

With their orders Friday, Abbott and DeSantis joined nearly a dozen other states that over the last week or so have begun to scale back reopening due to the new surge. On Thursday Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, which is among those seeing the highest increase in new infections, announced that the state's reopening process would also be halted.

California may soon follow suit, with Gov. Gavin Newsom warning that the state is "prepared" to issue another stay-at-home order if necessary, though adding that "We don't intend to do that. We don't want to do that."

. . .

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday followed his neighbor Abbott, announcing that he would not be lifting any further coronavirus-related restrictions the same day his state posted one of its largest single-day increases in new cases. Texas' other neighbor to the east, Louisiana, had already announced a four-week delay before moving into its next phase of reopening.

The governors of Utah, Michigan, Kansas, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina and Delaware have also taken similar steps to freeze the current phase of reopening.

But freezing or pausing the reopening is really far too little. Think about it -- it's like a corollary to the Peter Principle (which states that employees in a big company will rise to their own level of incompetence). If reopening to (say) Phase 3 causes enormous spikes in the caseload, then "pausing" at Phase 3 merely locks in what's causing the spike. Only moving back to an earlier phase will even begin to fix the problem in any meaningful way, which is why Texas and Florida have now moved to do so.

Call it the start of "the great reclosing," after the "let's reopen way too early" experiment failed. And the entire thing was nothing short of reckless politics to please Donald Trump. In Arizona and Texas, the Republican legislature actually banned mayors from instituting stricter guidelines than the state (like mandating everyone wear masks, for instance). Because no dang librul mayor was going to stand in the way of the great reopening of the economy, of course. These actions, in hindsight, appear downright criminal.

Arizona is facing more per capita cases than recorded by any country in Europe or even by hard-hit Brazil. "Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, is recording as many as 2,000 cases a day, 'eclipsing the New York City boroughs even on their worst days,' warned a Wednesday brief by disease trackers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, which observed, 'Arizona has lost control of the epidemic.'" . . .

"Physicians, public health experts, advocates and local officials say the crisis was predictable in Arizona, where local ordinances requiring masks were forbidden until Gov. Doug Ducey (R) reversed course last week. State leaders did not take the necessary precautions or model safe behavior... When forbearance was most required, as the state began to reopen despite continued community transmission, an abrupt and uniform approach -- without transparent benchmarks or latitude for stricken areas to hold back -- led large parts of the public to believe the pandemic was over.

"This week, Arizona reported not just a record single-day increase in new cases -- with Tuesday's tally reaching 3,591 -- but also record use of inpatient beds and ventilators for suspected and confirmed cases. Public health experts warn that hospitals could be stretched so thin they may have to begin triaging patients by mid-July.... Still, resistance to health precautions remains pronounced. At an anti-mask rally Wednesday, a member of the Scottsdale City Council, Republican Guy Phillips, shouted the dying words of George Floyd -- 'I can't breathe' -- before ripping off his mask....

Ducey didn't just block local governments from imposing restrictions to protect their own residents. His administration has threatened to cut off state funding in retaliation for such regulations. "The biggest challenge has been Governor Ducey tying the hands of mayors and county health departments," said Regina Romero, the Democratic mayor of Tucson, who said she weighed an emergency proclamation mandating masks in mid-March but was advised against it by her city attorney. "There's a real threat with money involved."

The Trump White House is reluctantly beginning to admit to this failure, although not explicitly. Vice President Mike Pence and Larry Kudlow are still out there trying to get everyone to see the massive failure through some awfully rosy-tinted glasses, even as the numbers continue to worsen. But today, for the first time in weeks, the administration's coronavirus task force held a press briefing. Notably, Donald Trump did not appear. The last time they held a briefing America only (!) had one million cases and 50,000 deaths. Both numbers have more than doubled since.

The American people are smarter than Mike Pence, and see things quite differently:

A majority of Americans, 56 percent, believe the country is moving too quickly to reopen, while only 15 percent say it's moving too slowly, according to a new ABC-Ipsos poll. Seventy-six percent of Americans say they're worried about catching the virus, seven percent more than just two weeks ago.

President Trump, perhaps after being informed that the optics weren't exactly great, just cancelled a weekend golf trip to New Jersey. This, after another whole week of bad optics for Trump, which started with Trump's Tulsa campaign rally flopping on an epic scale (the fire marshal reported that fewer than one-third of the seats in the arena were filled). This sent Trump into yet another tantrum, and his "walk of shame" from Marine Corps One was downright priceless.

Donald Trump's re-election campaign strategy seems now to consist of re-enacting the core scene from Fight Club. No problem is so small that Trump can't haul off and punch himself in the face over it, at this point. Everything he does seems to make him less appealing to the voters, almost as if by design.

Don't believe this? Well, while Republicans were all gleefully sneering at Joe Biden because he misspoke and said "120 million" Americans had died in the pandemic, here is how Trump answered a softball question from the softest of interviewers, Fox News host Sean Hannity, at a townhall meeting this week. When asked what his top priorities for his second term would be, Trump responded with the following word salad:

Well one of the things that will be really great -- you know, the word experience is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience. I've always said that. But the word experience is a very important word. It's a very important meaning. I never did this before, I never slept over in Washington. I was in Washington I think 17 times, all of a sudden I'm president of the United States, you know the story, I'm riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with our First Lady and I say, "This is great." But I didn't know very many people in Washington, it wasn't my thing. I was from Manhattan, from New York. Now I know everybody. And I have great people in the administration. You make some mistakes, like you know, an idiot like Bolton, all he wanted to do is drop bombs on everybody. You don't have to drop bombs on everybody. You don't have to kill people.

So... um... Trump's second term will be all about... not dropping bombs on people? Not killing people? Actually, that last one would be an improvement over the great reopening experiment that just failed, when you think about it. Even so, that's an astoundingly irrelevant rant instead of even mentioning one single item that Trump would like to see accomplished in a second term. In other words, Trump hauls off and punches himself in the face, once again.

On the coronavirus pandemic, Trump is trying to convince everyone that it's all in the past and "the plague" (as he likes to call it) is over and done with. Just hide your heads in the sand, people, and everything will work out fine! The Trump administration announced this week that they're going to shut down the drive-through testing sites they've been running in Texas, right when the caseload in Texas is going through the roof. Nothin' to see here, folks, move along!

Trump whacked himself again today by filing a court brief arguing for the complete destruction of the Affordable Care Act. Because right in the middle of a pandemic is obviously the perfect time to take millions of families' health insurance away! What could possibly go wrong with that? Trump would replace Obamacare with... well, nobody knows, because he still won't say. Republicans in Congress have had over a decade to come with a plan -- any plan -- to replace Obamacare, and they've still got diddly-squat to show for it. Biden helpfully pointed out that if Obamacare is destroyed, then insurance companies would then be free to bar people with pre-existing conditions from getting insurance -- and that having COVID-19 would indeed be one of those pre-existing conditions:

Those survivors, having struggled and won the fight of their lives, would have their peace of mind stolen away at the moment they need it most. They would live their lives caught in a vise between Donald Trump's twin legacies: his failure to protect the American people from the coronavirus, and his heartless crusade to take health-care protections away from American families.

Trump's take on it resembles all those things Republicans are now saying about Biden ("He can't string two sentences together"): "What we want to do is terminate it and give health care. We'll have great health care, including pre-existing conditions." That's Trump's plan, in its entirety. And Republicans in Congress certainly don't have anything better (although they at least can form proper English sentences when explaining that they've got nothing at all to offer).

Need more proof? Here's Trump showing that empathy he's so famous for, right after stating that he had urged his people to "slow down" all the testing: "They test and they test. We had tests that people don't know what's going on. We got tests. We got another one over here, the young man's 10 years old. He's got the sniffles. He'll recover in about 15 minutes. That's the case." Boy, that'll get a whole bunch of suburban moms to vote for you, right? Not caring in the slightest about a 10-year-old catching coronavirus is just another instance of Trump hauling off and smacking his own face in front of the voters.

Trump also this week proved that -- six months in and counting -- he still doesn't even understand why it's called "COVID-19." No, really. He's been briefed probably hundreds of times, and he couldn't even retain this one fact from any of the briefings. As usual, he tried to put himself at one remove from this ignorance, but it's pretty obvious exactly who is clueless here: "COVID-19, COVID, I said what's the 19? COVID-19, some people can't explain the 19."

Meanwhile, the European Union is considering enacting a ban on people travelling from the United States, since we obviously are dangerously incompetent when it comes to battling a pandemic. Experts in America seem to agree:

But Italy announced just 264 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday -- the same day that the United States reported nearly 32,000. The European nation opened its restaurants and stores a month ago, albeit under new, national safety measures, even as U.S. states wrestled with inconsistent, hasty reopening efforts that have been blamed for new virus spikes. And Italy's outbreak has dramatically ebbed from its mid-March peak, while America's new per capita cases remain on par with Italy's worst day -- and show signs of rising further, with record hospitalizations in states like Arizona, Florida and Texas last week.

"I think there are going to be states in our country that can replicate Italy," said Ashish Jha, head of Harvard's Global Health Institute, noting that New York has made its own dramatic strides in containing the virus.

"But I would rather spend this summer in Rome with my family than in Phoenix."

That's if they let you in, of course.

Trump's biggest skill, of course, is distraction. He's always been able to get everyone talking about some hot-button issue to the exclusion of all else, but this doesn't seem to be working very well for him right now. He tried to start a big fight by calling the virus the "Kung Flu," and just today he signed an executive order designed to show he's sticking up for Confederate statues, but neither one seems likely to get much traction while the pandemic comes roaring back. The American public is finally beginning to see through the schtick, one would like to hope.

Paul Waldman of the Washington Post was the most eloquent this week in expressing outrage at Trump:

[I]n a propaganda effort that can only be described as obscene, the Trump administration is trying to convince us not only that the pandemic is all but behind us, but also that its spectacularly incompetent response has been a great triumph.

This will without a doubt go down as one of the worst presidential failures in American history. And we can see now that it had three distinct (if overlapping) phases.

The first was the denial phase, in which President Trump dismissed the danger from the virus and did almost nothing to prepare for its arrival. The second was the mismanagement phase, in which his administration utterly failed to control the virus as it swept across the country.

The third was the polarization phase, in which, for his own vulgar political reasons, Trump attacked Democratic governors trying to contain the virus, discouraged social distancing and mask-wearing, and quite intentionally created an atmosphere in which loud refusal to take the measures that we know reduce the spread of infection is how you prove you're a loyal Republican.

. . .

This pandemic is an era-defining catastrophe, and it didn't have to be this way. It's almost impossible to imagine a president more ill-prepared, by virtue of experience and temperament and judgment, to handle it, and all our worst fears have come true. Don't let him or any of his lackeys tell you otherwise.

The more this goes on, the better Biden does in the polls, it is worth pointing out. A new poll put Biden up by the following margins in six battleground states: Arizona (up 7 points), Florida (up 6), Michigan (up 11), North Carolina (up 9), Pennsylvania (up 10), Wisconsin (up 11). The same poll put Biden up a whopping 14 points over Trump nationwide, 50 percent to 36 percent.

Things have gotten so bad even Carly Fiorina is now saying she'll vote for Biden:

As citizens, our vote is more than a check on a box. You know, it's a statement about where we want to go, and I think what we need now actually is real leadership that can unify the country. I am encouraged that Joe Biden is a person of humility and empathy and character. I think he's demonstrated that through his life. And I think we need humility and empathy everywhere in public life right now. And I think character counts.

This may be the first time ever that we find we agree wholeheartedly with Carly Fiorina. But what can you really expect when Trump's out there giving himself black eyes on a daily basis?


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

Devin Nunes, Republican snowflake extraordinaire, lost a court case against the spoof "Devin Nunes' Cow" Twitter account this week, but we have no idea if the imaginary cow is a Democrat or not, so we can't technically give it an award. Heh.

We increasingly find that a Republican group -- the Lincoln Project, which includes Kellyanne Conway's husband -- is deserving of praise, for their lighting-fast ad team that slams Trump immediately after he punches himself in the face. They had two ads out this week in this vein, "Shrinking" (which makes merry fun of Trump's tiny Tulsa crowd size, and includes the line: "You've probably heard this before, but it was smaller than we expected"), and "Flag of Treason" (which more seriously took on Trump's embrace of the Confederate flag and all its supporters). You know, if we were a bazillionaire Democrat we'd certainly consider throwing $100 million or so at this group so they can run these ads nationwide on a regular basis. [Paging Mike Bloomberg... paging Mike Bloomberg....]

Several progressive candidates seem to have won their primaries this week, but we're going to have to wait to hand out awards to them because the results won't be final for a while yet. This should be a note of caution to everyone, by the way, since with all the mail-in ballots that will have to be processed, there's a very good chance that we aren't going to know the outcome of the presidential race on Election Day this year. Be warned, everyone.

But this week we'd like to give the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents (but cannot cast a vote for) Washington, D.C. Today, the House made history by passing a D.C. statehood bill -- the first such legislation to ever pass either house of Congress. D.C. statehood has long been a festering issue (they even use license plates with "No taxation without representation" prominently displayed on them), but has never had the support needed. After watching Trump supersede the city government during the recent protests, though, Democrats got on board in a big way.

Washington has 700,000 citizens living in it who have no vote in Congress at all, because they are part of no state. The smallest state (population-wise) is Wyoming, with around 500,000 people, so D.C.'s got more than enough people to qualify for statehood. The vote was a party-line one, with zero Republicans voting against it and all but one Democrat voting for it. Republicans struggled to explain their opposition, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointed out:

But Democrats bristled at the GOP's rationale for opposition. "That shouldn't be how we have enfranchisement in our country -- what's the nature of our vote?" Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters. "They talk about the 'toos' -- too Black, too Democrat, whatever."

"The fact is people in the District of Columbia pay taxes, fight our wars, risk their lives for our democracy and yet, in this state they have no say, they have no vote in the House or Senate about whether we go to war and how those taxes are exacted," Pelosi continued.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vowed he won't take up the bill in the GOP-controlled Senate, even going so far as to compare D.C. statehood to "full-bore socialism."

Other Republicans have disparaged the character of Americans living in the nation's capital.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) took to the Senate floor on Thursday to argue that Wyoming -- despite its smaller population of 500,000 people -- deserved its voting rights because it is a "working class state" rather than a haven for lobbyists and the "bureaucracy" of federal workers.

This is just laughable, and Pete Buttigieg led the laughter, tweeting in response to Cotton's idiocy: "Huh? Since when do we assign democratic rights based on profession? And what makes a waiter, teacher, or construction worker who lives in DC less deserving than a miner, logger, or construction worker in Wyoming? Perhaps @TomCottonAR would like to define 'well-rounded'...."

Obviously, D.C. is not going to become the 51st state until Democrats retake control of the Senate, but that might not be that far off. For pushing this issue tirelessly (the same bill has been filed "for decades"), Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton was easily our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. D.C. statehood just got one very big step closer to becoming reality, and she deserves the lion's share of the credit for making it happen now.

[Congratulate House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton on her official contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is the flip side of our MIDOTW this week. Buried in the article on the D.C. statehood vote was the following:

Nearly every Democrat who voted against the 1993 bill voted in favor on Friday: [Steny] Hoyer, Reps. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, David Price of North Carolina and Jim Cooper of Tennessee. Only Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota remained opposed.

What the...? What possible reason could Peterson have had?

For being the lone Democrat to vote against this historic measure, Collin Peterson is easily our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. 'Nuff said.

[Contact Representative Collin Peterson on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 580 (6/26/20)

At times, we are taken to task by our readers for writing long-winded paragraphs rather than actual "talking point" soundbites. In our defense, we feel that sometimes the final zinger in these paragraphs needs a buildup and some context to work most effectively.

But we do largely concede the point. Shorter is better when coming up with political slogans. So this week we're going to keep things brutally short by only offering up bumpersticker slogans for the 2020 campaign. Bumpersticker slogans have to be short, to be readable by other drivers, of course.

So here are our seven favorite short-but-sweet slogans for the 2020 campaign. We have to admit that the first two we first heard at a Netroots Nation conference and the final one actually comes from Joe Biden's campaign (and is even better than what we proposed long before Biden emerged as the nominee). We mention this up front because we're going to use the formatting we usually use to indicate someone else's words this week to more-prominently display these short slogans (and make them look more like an actual bumpersticker).

We also would heartily encourage any other suggestions for Biden or anti-Trump bumperstickers. This is our current list, but they could certainly be improved upon, so please don't hesitate to suggest your own in the comments!


   Rhyme No. 1

Short, sweet, to the point. And it rhymes! What more could a bumpersticker slogan want?



   Rhyme No. 2

Let's not forget about those down-ballot races, either. Fortunately, we've got another snappy rhyme for this:



   Contrast No. 1

The next two lay out a real contrast, and a real choice. There are plenty of others we could have used in this vein, but these two seemed the best for the current moment.

BIDEN 2020


   Contrast No. 2

An especially pertinent case to make, given the circumstances.

BIDEN 2020


   The heart of the matter

Hit Trump where he's weakest. After all, he's out there hitting himself in the face on this particular issue, so why not join in?

BIDEN 2020


   Just because we couldn't resist...

This one comes with an extra order of snark, because he so richly deserves it.



   Biden's winning slogan (to date)

Finally, we have the one from Team Biden. As mentioned, almost a year ago we wrote a column suggesting that the ultimate slogan to use to take on Trump would be: "Do we really want another four years of this?!?" At the time, we pointed out that although generic, it would doubtlessly come in handy no matter what antics Trump was up to at the time. The overwhelming complaint most voters have with Donald Trump is that he is just so exhausting to keep track of. Not a week goes by without multiple crises and explosions and eruptions from the Oval Office. There's always something to be outraged about, because the hits just never stop coming with Trump.

But Team Biden has gone a giant step further, by boiling this entire sentiment down to just one word. So we tip our wordsmithing hat to them, because this is far better than our 9-word effort. What's the biggest motivating factor for voters in 2020?


-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


One Comment on “From The (Friday Talking Points) Archives -- The Reclosing Begins”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, THIS was definitely a FTP column for the history books! And, a reminder of how much fun the comments sections used to be. :-)

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