COVID-19, and where the race for the White House is headed

2020 election vote

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The polls, and the current conventional wisdom, would have Joe Biden measuring the drapes in the Oval Office a few months hence.

When actually, and you don’t want to hear this, we’re headed toward a landslide for Donald Trump that will rival Nixon-McGovern in 1972.

I can hear you now.

But, but, but …

I get it.

There’s no way.

Trump blundered us into this COVID-19 shutdown.

Another 5.2 million people filed for unemployment this week, pushing the number over the past four weeks to 22 million, negating the entirety of the recovery from the 2007-2009 recession, which, wow.

And there’s no end in sight.

How …

Stop right there.

At there’s no end in sight.

America: Nov. 3, 2020

As hard as it is to predict where things are going to be an hour from now, let’s take a stab at thinking where things stand in November.

We’re all familiar with modeling these days – terms like best case, worst case, mean.

Let’s think mean.

In November, we’re still under a regime of social distancing that we wouldn’t have imagined on March 10, but from the perspective of today feels like running butt naked on the beach at midnight.

We’re able to go to restaurants, which have removed half their tables.

Grocery and retail stores still have bouncers out front letting us in based on capacity.

Sports have been back for a while, but it’s all on TV, no fans.

Which we’re totally OK with, because they’re not games from 14 years ago.

Kids are back in school, which, yay.

The previous academic year is pretty much a total loss.

Many will never get back on track, but that was predictable.

Roughly half of those on the unemployment rolls today are working again, some at their old jobs, many in jobs paying less than what they were making.

Millions are still struggling to get caught up from missing weeks, in some cases, months of paychecks, their businesses being shuttered, the monies promised them in the form of loans and unemployment benefits delayed due to bureaucratic incompetence.

That’s where …

No end in sight?

The millions in states not named New York or New Jersey who were gainfully employed, providing for their families, paying their rents and mortgages, planning for their futures, are looking at the numbers where they are, and starting to ask questions.

In Virginia, for instance, we’re seeing 6,889 cases reported and 208 deaths, which sounds like a lot, except that you’ve also heard that 60,000 Americans die from the flu each year.

That’s actually overstating it.

Yes, the high-water mark in the past five flu seasons, 2017-2018, saw 61,000 deaths from the flu in the U.S., according to the CDC, but the average for that period is 42,500 flu deaths a year.

Of note in the numbers: CDC says we’ve had an average of 32.6 million flu cases per season over the last five years, and 534,000 flu-related hospitalizations.

That’s over a roughly 25-week period each year, so we’re talking 1.3 million flu cases, 21,000 hospitalizations and 1,700 deaths per week.

Compare that to where we are now with COVID-19 six weeks in: roughly 650,000 total confirmed cases, roughly 40,000 hospitalizations, more than 28,000 deaths.

Going with the modeling from the UVA Biocomplexity Institute, which assumes seven real-world COVID-19 cases for each confirmed COVID-19 case, we’re talking on a per-week basis 760,000 COVID-19 cases, 7,000 hospitalizations and 4,700 deaths.

The COVID-19 numbers are with four weeks of the six with heavy social distancing introduced, no doubt keeping the case and hospitalization numbers low, by design, and when you look at the mortality rate for COVID-19, which is 2-3 times that of the flu, based on our deep dive, you can see the thinking going into the design.

An even deeper dive would further break down how roughly half of the deaths reported in EU countries are in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and lead to a discussion of how we don’t have a comparison point for how COVID-19 is acting in the U.S., because not all of our states are sharing those numbers with the CDC, and what that means in terms of what we should be doing in terms of the distancing.

Time to get drag ourselves out of the weeds in terms of the numbers and get back to what people out of work, their businesses shuttered, not able to pay their bills, reduced to going to food banks to be able to feed their families, are thinking of all of this right now.

They were told that if we didn’t do this shutdown that forced them to the sidelines, then the hospitals would be overrun.

Well, they’re nowhere near being overrun, outside of New York City, and now you’re telling us there’s no end in sight to this.

Great.

Except that President Trump is saying there’s an end in sight.

Through the looking glass

Trump is the one who said, let’s open the country by Easter, then when he got pushback, said, OK, April 30.

You can say he’s only trying to throw out a lifeline to people because he’s worried about his re-election, and obviously that’s what’s motivating him, but you can’t say that and then not also say that, for example, Ralph Northam isn’t casting himself as Governor M.D. because he isn’t thinking about his future.

Think that one through for a minute. Northam is, one, term-limited, and two, only 14 months removed from admitting, before recanting, that it was him in that blackface photo.

Those two things, plus the fact that Virginia has Democrats as its sitting U.S. senators, means Northam is the lamest of lame ducks, unless …

I mean, what if being Governor M.D. gets you an appointment from a President Biden to head up the HHS?

Trump clearly loves his afternoon pressers, which have replaced his campaign rallies as his source of daily affirmation, but the same is true for Northam, for Andrew Cuomo, for Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan.

Northam is auditioning for his next job, and surely he’s not alone there.

Plus, the bright lights, the cameras, it can be … intoxicating.

It’s all political theater to them, and since the world is shut down, we’re all watching.

Now, the bulk of you reading this see Trump as the obvious villain here, but let’s take a step back.

It’s easy for people who still have jobs, who can pay their rent or mortgage, who have been able to stock up on food and make regular runs to the ABC store, to dismiss people who talk about “the economy” as valuing money over lives.

For people who are just riding this out until you get to go back to your favorite restaurant for a night out or get a long-delayed vacation, whenever that eventually is, this is a minor inconvenience – OK, not a minor inconvenience, because you’re already going stir-crazy, and when is this going to end? – but it’s not anywhere near existential.

Most of you tuning in here – our internal numbers tell us that AFP readers are overwhelmingly Democrats, middle to upper-middle class – think Trump is an idiot, can’t believe he got the nomination in 2016, much less got elected, and, come on, he got impeached, now he’s bungling COVID, and you’re saying he’s not only going to win re-election, but it’s going to be a landslide?

I’m the crazy one, I get it.

Maybe it takes crazy to understand crazy, which is our world right now.

The pendulum

Democrats are the face of the shutdown, and if you @ me about how Dr. Anthony Fauci fits into that, save yourself the trouble, because Fauci, a medical scientist with a thick New York accent, might as well be the keynote speaker at the virtual Democratic National Convention this summer, from how the public perceives him.

It’s Fauci, Democratic governors like Northam, Cuomo, Whitmer, Gavin Newsom in California, who deliver the grim news, and tell you there’s no end in sight.

And as the measures that they’re advocating to keep the numbers down work, it’s Trump telling folks who are out of work, out of money, out of luck, that he’s the one who wants to get them back to work, as soon as possible, preferably yesterday.

I know, you want to reach through the interwebs right now and gouge my eyes out.

But, but, but …

I’m with you. I wrote a book last year on how the working-class whites that I grew up with in a trailer park in the shadow of the Blue Ridge have been voting against their best interests since the Reagan realignment of the 1980s.

Back when I was writing this, I thought we were on the verge of the next partisan realignment, after the 2018 midterms that saw Democrats, running uphill into a gerrymandered Republican congressional map, take back the House, setting up a 2020 cycle that would see Dems win the Senate and the White House, and in the process finally quash that Reagan revolution, which actually dates back to 1968, when Richard Nixon rode his Southern strategy to an upset win over Hubert H. Humphrey.

Thing about partisan realignments is, they’re often the result of something cataclysmic in nature.

The Civil War, for example, led to the birth of the Republican Party.

The Great Depression gave us the New Deal coalition.

The seeds of what became the Reagan revolution were sown in the discord of the 1960s involving the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, and the economic shocks of the late 1970s including inflation and the intermittent long lines as the gas pumps.

The precipitating factor in what was the coming 2020 Democratic realignment was the 2007-2009 recession, which led to the election of Barack Obama, whose policies moved us in the direction of universal healthcare, sorta, kinda, and ushered in progressive approaches involving immigration and LGBTQ rights, among many others.

The Trump election seemed destined to be the blip on the radar that the Jimmy Carter surprise win in 1976 was on our way to the Reagan realignment.

Until another, much bigger, cataclysm got in the way.

I don’t credit Donald Trump for being able to think past what he’s going to have for lunch, so I’m not crediting him for anything in the way of genius with how he’s been able to maneuver himself into the position that he’s in right now.

But he clearly has the upper hand.

Inconvenient truth and consequences

Think back to where the mean of my crude modeling has us on Nov. 3, 2020.

The new normal on Election Day is a far sight better than the new normal of today, but it’s nowhere near the normal we knew a few weeks ago.

The good news, looking back from the perspective of November, is that we never experienced, outside of that one awful wave in New York in the spring, anything that we’d been told at the outset would be the case.

Two million people aren’t going to die. The hospitals are not overrun.

Social distancing is working.

Well, not for everybody.

For the 22 million now, probably more soon, before things start lifting, who lost their jobs, their small businesses, none of this is working.

A good number of those folks, we can presume, will get back on their feet, get their jobs back, be able to reopen their businesses, as economic activity creeps back up in the summer and into the fall.

But even those folks are behind on their bills, maybe hopelessly so.

The ones left out once things pick back up for the rest are on the road to ruin.

And, thing is, this isn’t something that they’re not already starting to see now.

Facebook groups are popping up all over the country clamoring for things to reopen, and we’re starting to see protests at state capitals, and we’re what, barely a month into the shutdown?

Northam, here in Virginia, is signaling to us that his shutdown order effective through June 10 isn’t going to be enough, and that’s two months from now.

The UVA modeling that I cited above is suggesting a peak in COVID cases in Virginia in August, and while the modeling seems like an outlier, from the other models that are being used as guides, the governor gave the people who came up with that modeling a microphone at a presser this week, so you can guess what he’s thinking in terms of how things are going to look here post-June 10.

This in a state where, you have to remember, just a few months ago, cities and counties across the Commonwealth drew thousands of people who riled themselves up over Northam’s push for gun control.

That one, you may recall, had dozens of counties, towns and cities passing resolutions declaring themselves to be Second Amendment sanctuaries, ahead of a dystopian march on the State Capitol in Richmond that, surprise, cowed Northam and legislative Democrats into slowing their anti-gun roll, most notably quietly killing their own proposed assault-weapons ban before passing a watered-down package of gun-control bills that allowed them to save some face.

The email chains from that one are fresh, chocked full of very much active email addresses that can, and you have to assume, will be mobilized in the coming weeks to put pressure on Northam.

Trump, then, will be applying the pressure on Northam, and other governors, from above, and if you remember anything from our Second Amendment sanctuary winter, it will get ugly, and fast.

This part is uncomfortable

If things proceed as the mean of even our outlier models assume, Northam and other governors leading this fight – most of them Democrats, with some Republicans, in purple and swing states – are under siege like so many Louis XVIs, even as they remind the public that what they’re doing is working, maybe too well, because the numbers, aside from the outlier UVA model, suggest that we’ve already seen our peak, and that it wasn’t anywhere as bad, outside New York City, as the original models had made things out to be.

The uncomfortable part to this is that the only thing that can stop all of this from happening – the late spring and summer of discontent, modeled on the successful Virginia Second Amendment sanctuary movement, giving Trump the ability to run in the fall as the guy who tried to get “them” to open things back up, with a headwind toward a landslide – is if the situation that is currently very much in control somehow spirals out of control.

Which is to say, we get toward death tolls in the range of 100,000, 200,000, more.

I can’t be the only person who heard Trump acknowledge those estimates a few days ago and then think, he’s seen new modeling that tells us this is going to be more like a bad flu season when it’s all said and done.

Once he set that as the bar in terms of expectations, if we get a flu-season death toll out of this, it’s going to be hard to convince the millions whose businesses closed, whose jobs were eliminated, that this wasn’t just total nonsense from the outset.

A good number of folks who lost their jobs and businesses would be upset even if we were seeing more deaths, more strain on the healthcare system.

Absent a catastrophe, which isn’t coming, and this is pretty cold political calculus, but you can see where things stand now.

Crude as it is to say, Democrats are reduced to having to root for that death toll to go way up to see what they think is inevitable right now to actually happen.

Because if it doesn’t, Nixon-McGovern is your guide.

That’s where this is politically.

And if you’re a Democrat, it’s not a good place.

Story by Chris Graham


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