NDN Blog

On COVID, What's Next for the US, Trump and the 2020 Election

Phase I of America’s response to COVID is coming to an end, and there is little question that it has been a disaster for the country and increasingly for the Republican Party.  The numbers are staggering - 50,000 lives lost, depression level unemployment numbers, and historic levels of debt.  As we wrote in our new Thursday poll roundup, recent polling has begun to once again show broad dissatisfaction with the President and his Party - if the election were held today, Democrats would almost certainly win both the White House and the Senate. A new New York Times story confirms that the GOP establishment is increasingly worried about this very thing this fall. 

All of this takes us to the question that is likely more than any other going to define the 2020 election - why has America’s response to COVID been so ineffective, and will Trump learn from his extraordinary missteps and course correct?

There are two principle ways that a nation can fight a pandemic like COVID-19: mandatory stay at home policies to slow the spread of the virus and a national testing/tracing/isolation program that allows things to stand backup.  Remarkably, five months after the US first learned of COVID, the President has chosen to do neither of these things.  He has refused to stand up a national testing/tracing regime and, through his recent embrace of the very unpopular “Liberate!” movement, has actually worked to undermine the stay at home orders which have done so much to slow the spread of the virus after it was allowed to run wildly across the country due to his early inaction. That the President chose to essentially call an end to the national stay at home efforts, ones he didn’t call for and wasn’t enforcing, prior to establishing a plan for Phase II - standing up the country - remains one of the most reckless things that our very reckless President has ever done. 

America now has no plan for what happens next; we have no Phase II.  In fact, the President has repeatedly said that it isn’t his job to manage this and instead that it is up to the states.  But do we leave it to the states to repel foreign armies, defeat terrorism, counter cyber threats from abroad, hunt down serial killers, respond to extreme weather events, or even, let’s say, fashion an economic response to COVID-19? No, of course we don’t leave it to the states to fight such extraordinary battles on their own; and nor did we fund or design our public health system to do so in a case of a pandemic.  There is no way forward here without the President and his team leading us.  Or perhaps Congress forcing him to do so if he continues to refuse to do what’s necessary now.

Let’s talk for a bit about what a national Phase II plan could look like.  It can and should include:

1) A national testing/tracing/isolation plan

2) A permanent fix to the medical supply chain

3) A national approach to social distancing and masking at work and in public spaces

4) Clear rules regarding international and domestic travel and foreign entrants into the US

5) Immunity certification, if immunity in fact exists

6) Creative solutions to giving our young people and students something to do this summer and potentially this fall

7/ A plan to ensure the 2020 elections take place without challenge

8) Safe harbor liability protections for entities which adhere to agreed-upon national guidelines

What we have to do before standing up the country in the next few weeks and months is incredible - hundreds of thousands of tracers have to be hired, hundreds of millions of tests produced, an entire type of testing not even approved yet by the FDA - antibody testing - has to be launched, rules regarding travel have to be established, decisions about coming testing and isolation regimes being mandatory or voluntary have to be debated and settled on...

It is hard to see how all of this will be established across the US as quickly as we need without Congress starting to get involved and helping to lead and fund Phase II.  The urgency of a true national response is perhaps best understood using an example.  Let's say that in a few weeks I travel from DC to Boston for a meeting.  While there I test positive for COVID.  What happens next? Am I quarantined in Boston? If so, where? If a hotel, who pays? We know that the MA-based tracers would work to establish my contacts locally, but how will my tracing down here in DC/MD/VA happen? Who is responsible for that, and how are these efforts coordinated? Let’s assume I took a plane to Boston.  Everyone who was on that plane will have to be traced and tested.  But they have now scattered to 10 other states - who does this work and coordinates it all?

The point of this example is that there is no possibility that the US can stand itself back up as we all envision without the federal government playing a leading role.  If it doesn’t, then we may not be able to travel inside the US (let alone outside) until we have a vaccine.  For why would Massachusetts, now without community transmission, accept any traveler from parts of the US where the virus is still live and spreading? Or is the idea that MA would essentially set up a border, and test everyone who comes into the state? To enable travel, even potentially across state lines for a daily commute, the public must have confidence that we have a way of effectively and rapidly isolating new infections, and removing those people from society - a confusing, erratic, and inefficient state by state regime isn’t going to cut it, and nor should the American people accept it - we are one nation, and should act like one. 

What is worrisome about where the President’s head is at right now is that in a recent press briefing he weighed in on all this, and endorsed the idea of internal borders.  It was a bit shocking at the time, but it is pragmatic recognition that if he does not set up a single national system then we will break into parts, separate regions or states, for what could be two years. 

Okay, you get it.  Phase II is going to be hard, really hard, and we are way behind where we should be.  Important pieces of the plan are months away from being ready and critical debates haven’t even begun.  And we have to get it right to stand our society and economy back up.  The President’s current approach, like his approach to Phase I, is profoundly stupid and unserious.  Congress needs to step in now, and work to forge a cogent and effective plan for Phase II.  It should consult with the nation’s governors, particularly from the most impacted states, and lead where the President refuses to. 

This has been a terrible few months for this great nation.  But in order to make sure this tragedy doesn’t become something which damages the nation beyond repair, our leaders must come together in the coming days around a single national approach to Phase II of our response to COVID - living with it and returning to work in the months before we have a vaccine.   

Analysis: Democrats Begin The 2020 Election Where They Left Off In 2018

This piece is a live document that is updated with the latest polling data and analysis every Thursday.

As we enter the 2020 general election campaign in earnest this summer, NDN will be providing our latest thoughts on the structure of the race and how we believe the election will unfold. It is our belief that the central theme of this election will be continuity with the 2018 midterms that saw Democrats win the House by a historic 8.6 percentage point margin in the popular vote. That is to say, the struggles that Trump faced in winning suburban, college-educated voters in 2018 have continued in 2020, and if the election were held today the President would likely lose by a fairly wide margin. 

In particular, we like to focus on three major polling aggregates to measure the Presidential race: Trump and Biden head-to-head, Trump's approval rating among likely/registered voters, and the Dem-GOP generic Congressional ballot. As you can see in the chart below, each of these measures points to a similar "structure" of the election that currently favors the Democrats by about 6-9 points (and very similar to Dem's 8.6 margin in 2018) - Biden leads head-to-head by 5.9 points on average, Trump's net approval rating is -8.6 points, and the Congressional generic favors Dems by 7.6 points.

Furthermore, the gap between the national popular vote and vote shares in the battleground states that cost Clinton the election in 2016 doesn't seem to have expanded since 2016, which given Democrats' increased strength nationally means that they start the 2020 campaign with a fairly large lead. On aggregate, Biden leads Trump in Michigan by 5.5, Pennsylvania by 4.6, Wisconsin by 2.7, Arizona by 4.4, and Florida by 3.4. This battleground strength also carries over to the Senate battleground states (although polling outside of the AZ Senate race has been relatively minimal) - Kelly and Hickenlooper have wide leads in Arizona and Colorado, while Cunningham and Gideon likely have small leads in North Carolina and Maine.

Finally, it is important to note that the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting major recession that the US will continue to face over the summer will likely have large, but still uncertain, effects on the 2020 election. Trump briefly saw a small "rally around the flag" boost to his approval rating (it hit a high of net -3.9 on March 28th), but this effect both didn't seem to affect his head-to-head numbers against Biden and has since then completely eroded. It could be the case that the public's quickly souring opinion of the President's coronavirus response could see his numbers fall to all-time lows, or the hyper-partisan nature of the current era could cause his numbers to stay in the narrow band that they've been in since 2017. We don't really know at this point, but either scenario means that Trump has a lot of work to do if he wants to win a second term.

Below you can find an aggregate of the most important polling data (in our view) for understanding where the 2020 election currently stands. 

Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20

US Not Ready to Open, Trump's Poll Numbers Continue to Slide

Monday 4/20 Notes On 2020 - While polling remains bouncy right now, Trump’s bump is largely gone and things have reverted back to about where they were prior to the COVID crisis - Democrats with a 6-9 point structural advantage, similar to where things stood in 2018.  Consider how similar these spreads/margins are:

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Yes, we have a long way to go in this challenging year. But in the coming months, one can easily imagine Biden gaining 1-3 more points from consolidating the party behind him and winning the nomination, and Trump losing a few as the costs and pain of his mismanagement of COVID become more evident.  That movement would put us closer to the 2018 vote numbers than we are today, and would put the White House and Senate in Democratic hands.

America Still Needs A COVID Plan - Given the structure of this race right now, it is very hard to understand what President Trump is choosing to do on COVID. The data is pretty clear that the American people believe he blew the early response to COVID, and do not support a fast re-opening.  Stay at home efforts are very popular, as are the front line governors who’ve made the tough calls for their residents.  So, from a political and public health standpoint, his attacks on both seem stupid and misguided. Trump’s only shot to win in 2020 at this point is to successfully manage this next phase of our response to COVID - the re-opening.  He had a second chance, a chance to rise to the moment and lead us through this terrible scourge.  But instead he seems to be retreating to a place of ideological extremism, Hannityville let’s call it, which will almost guarantee that we fail at this next critical phase of battling the virus.   

Consider all that should be in place prior to the US re-opening - a federally run testing/tracing/isolation regime with wide deployment of far more tests and tests which yield results in minutes, not days; a stronger, better equipped, and better prepared US health care system; a national approach to social distancing/masking at work and in communities; some strategy for what parents and communities are supposed to do with young people this summer and perhaps this fall; the establishment of a clear national process for certifying immunity if immunity does in fact exist; clarity on how international and domestic travel is going to work; and a plan to ensure our election takes place thiis November as is Constitutionally required, free from foreign interference and virus proofed. At this point, the President doesn’t seem to be committed to doing any of these things; in fact, his central strategy now seems to be focused on undermining the popular state and local stay at home regimes which have successfully slowed the spread of the virus. 

Throughout this COVID crisis, the President has repeatedly expressed what can generously be described as magical thinking - the virus would just go away, it wouldn’t come here, we have millions of tests, etc.  In what may be a looming tragedy for the country, this past week he seems to have once again chosen magical thinking - Liberate!/Open - over sound science and experience from what has worked in other nations.  What remains remarkable about it all is that he is not just acting outside science and reason, he is acting outside of polling too - which is why 2020 is shaping up to be a very bad year both for the United States and for what’s left of the Republican Party. 

Invite: Wed, June 10th, 2pm ET - With Dems Things Get Better Presentation

Please join NDN on Wednesday, June 10th at 2pm ET for our regular showing of our "With Dems, Things Get Better" webinar.  This new recurring webinar marks the debut of a new initiative here at NDN, “The Asymmetry Project.”  This project builds on a body of our work over the past few years, and makes the argument that one of the defining political developments of our time is just how different the two American political parties are, and have become.

This webinar will take place on Zoom, you can register for the event here

"With Dems Things Get Better" is a data rich dive into what has happened in America since the Berlin Wall fall in 1989 and a new age of globalization began. We ook at the performance of the two parties during this time – the 16 years of Obama and Clinton, the 15 plus years of the Bushes and Trump.  What the data shows is that America has prospered and made progress when Democrats have been in power, and fallen behind, again and again, when Republicans have held the White House.  We then spend time discussing what this all means for the coming recovery, policy making more broadly in the years ahead and in the short term, the 2020 election itself. 

We hope you can join us!  And do invite others - all are welcome.

Analysis - 2020 Battlefield Favors Joe Biden and the Democrats

With the general election seven months away, and the field set, let’s look at where things stand.  With the caveat that we are likely to see a lot of volatility this year, the current landscape clearly favors Joe Biden and the Democrats.  All of the following polls are from this week and our expectation is that Biden gains a few points in the coming days with Sanders getting out. All of the aggregates are from this morning.

Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Note the consistent 6-9 margin for Biden and the Democrats, suggesting that this is where the race is sitting today.  Trump trails in FL and WI, two must-win states for him.  It isn’t a pretty picture for him or the Republicans.

The Senate picture is also not going the GOP’s way right now.  Though the polling is now a few weeks old, there are public polls showing Democratic challengers beating incumbent GOPers in AZ, CO, ME, and NC.  Governor Bullock enters his race in Montana tied

If the election were held today, Joe Biden would handily beat Donald Trump, and the Senate would likely flip from GOP to Democratic.  We have a long way to go to the election of course, but right now the landscape very much favors the Democrats. 

Another Republican Recession, Landscape Still Leans Blue

As we’ve written to you before, we aren’t going to be paying too much attention to polling these next few weeks for it will no doubt be very volatile and noisy. Trump does appear to have gotten a small bump in recent days, though the fundamental structure of the race hasn’t changed - he’s minus 4.5 in 538’s job approval tracker, down 9 to Biden in new Fox News polling, and the Congressional Generic remains at -7.4 for the GOP.  The national landscape still favors the Dems. 

We are doubtful that Trump is in for any kind of sustained bump.  Regardless of Trump’s daily pressers, the cold hard truth is that the President failed to take action against COVID-19 when he should have; is playing a dangerous and sadistic game with the states; and his plan is still inadequate for what’s needed today.  The numbers that Americans will be focusing on in the coming months won’t be his daily TV ratings or job approval but COVID infection and death rates, the amount of equipment moved to the health care front lines, unemployment and uninsured rates, and GDP growth.  If these measures are good, he will have a good election.  If they aren’t, he won’t. 

That Trump is the third consecutive GOP President to see a recession and exploding deficits on their watch speaks to something we’ve been exploring in recent years - that the two parties just aren’t the same and aren’t mirrors of one another.  Since this new age of globalization began in the late 1980s, Democratic Presidents have produced growth, jobs, rising wages, and lower annual deficits.  The two Bush Presidents and Trump will have produced recessions and hard times, and W Bush and Trump will have overseen two of the worst economic moments in American history.  That Democrats keep getting the big things right in this new age, and the Republicans so disastrously wrong, simply must be a more significant area of debate and discussion in the months ahead. 

Where Are the Tests?

The early troubles that the CDC had in standing up a national COVID-19 testing regime have been well documented.  But in early March, the Administration told us that these problems had been fixed.  The Vice President promised 5 million tests in place by March 13th.  Other Administration officials promised tens of millions by late March.  Daily testing rates climbed, and on March 25th we hit 100,000 tests a day for the first time.  Even though many of these tests had ridiculously long turnarounds, 3-7 days, the much needed national testing system seemed to be in the process of being stood up.

But something has happened.  Daily testing growth stopped, and we are now stuck at around 100,000 tests a day (see data below).  Despite the promise of millions of tests, the US has only conducted 1.1m over the past ten weeks, and at current rates will not complete 5m tests until May 11th or so, a full two months after the Vice President said 5m tests were in place, ready to go.  

Given that to stand America up from the crisis the nation will need hundreds of millions of inexpensive and rapid tests, we simply have to understand what is happening here.  The answers provided by the White House are inadequate, and hundreds of thousands of American lives are in the balance here.  We simply have to get testing right or the crisis will get far worse and our recovery will be far more difficult.  There is no margin of error here. 

If the White House cannot explain what is happening with the US testing regime today, the House should conduct a virtual hearing Friday, and request that Dr. Birx testify under oath.  Something has gone wrong, again, with our national testing regime, and the American people deserve both answers and a clear plan for how to make it right."

You can find more from NDN on the need for a national plan to tame the virus here, and more on the need for better testing here

US Daily Testing Numbers - data from the COVID Tracking Project:

Mar 20 - 35k (this is one week after Pence said 5m tests would be in place)

Mar 21 - 44k

Mar 22 - 45k

Mar 23 - 66k

Mar 24 - 65k

Mar 25 - 113k

Mar 26 - 107k

Mar 27 - 108k

Mar 28 - 114k

Mar 29 - 95k

Mar 30 - 113k

Mar 31 - 98k

April 1 - 101k (1.2m total over 10 weeks!)

May 11 - 5m (at current rates of testing)

Invite: Fridays At 2 PM - Simon Rosenberg & Rob Shapiro Discuss COVID

NDN is pleased to invite you to a new weekly series every Friday at 2pm that will feature Simon Rosenberg and Rob Shapiro discussing the latest updates and analysis on COVID-19. 

The weekly briefings will take place on Zoom and will last for 45 minutes each. You can register for our April 17th discussion here, and our April 24th one here.  Once you register, you will find a link to the briefing location on Zoom that will go live at 2pm on Friday.

Simon is NDN's President and is a frequent political strategist and commentator in the national media, appearing regularly in the New York Times, Washington Post, and MSNBC. In this past election cycle, he was a senior advisor to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, helping craft the strategy which netted Democrats 40 seats and earned the highest vote share by either party since 1986. 

Rob is a long-time contributor to NDN and was the Undersecretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs in the Clinton Administration. He was a senior economic advisor to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Kerry in their presidential campaigns, and is currently the Chairman of Sonecon LLC, an economic and security policy consultancy. 

As background, Simon keeps a live document with his latest thinking on COVID that you can find here. As well, Rob published a new piece in The Washington Monthly last month that examines what a long-term economic recovery plan would look like in the face of several different scenarios of the coronavirus's severity. 

With Stimulus Done, Congress Must Now Focus on Defeating COVID

America will not be able to stand its economy and society back up until the COVID virus is contained.  With exploding infection rates now across the country, it is clear that the President and his team have failed in their fight to tame the virus.  With the hard work of providing for the US economy behind it, Congress must now focus on crafting a successful national approach that will allow us to fight the virus in the coming days but also in the many months that remain in this difficult struggle.

There is broad agreement about what needs to be done, right now:  

1) Surge equipment/beds/workers to the frontlines

2) Implement a national 21 day stay at home order

3) Crash a universal rapid testing/isolation regime like in South Korea

To put pressure on the Administration to finally craft a comprehensive response to the virus, Speaker Pelosi should form a political alliance with the governors in the most afflicted states.  By working together, they can create both a more effective national strategy to defeat COVID, but also begin to show a sense of common purpose which we will need to develop if we are to prevail against this dangerous threat.

There have been many Trumpian missteps over the past ten weeks which have allowed the virus to get out of control, but the greatest of all may be his pitting state against state and community against community; to prevail against a pandemic all of us must do our part and work together.  There is no us and them – only us.  The Speaker can exhibit the kind of leadership required to prevail against COVID by forging a new “war time” alliance of the House and top governors, and force the Administration to finally use the awesome power of the United States government to do what should have been done months ago.  We know what needs to be done – let’s get it done in the days ahead.

With New Data, The Costs of the President's Failed COVID19 Response Becoming Clearer

As more economic and public health data becomes available, the more the nation is becoming aware of the extraordinary costs of the President’s ongoing failure to craft a successful national response to the COVID19 virus.

While Congress is the midst of addressing our daunting short term economic challenges, far more must be done in the coming days to stop the spread of the virus. 

Nine weeks into this crisis and the nation still has no plan to stop COVID.  Our elected leaders from across the country should come together around a plan as ambitious as the economic plan close to passing today.  While there are many good ideas on the table, NDN believes there are four key things we must do right now to prevent COVID from doing unimaginable harm to the nation in the days ahead:  

1) Surge supplies/beds/staff to the medical front lines

2) Implement a national 3 week stay at home program

3) Crash/stand up a national testing/isolation regime like South Korea’s

4) Fund a “Manhattan Project” for a vaccine/therapeutics/testing/equipment both for COVID and to prepare for future pandemics

Our nation’s leaders shouldn’t accept the President’s ongoing failure to respond to the COVID threat; all of us should demand he step up here and do what the American people and all of the experts expect him to do – tame COVID, and then stand our society and economy back up later this spring and summer.

Can the governors of the big, afflicted states band togethter to create a pressure campaign against our flailing President? Work with Senate and House leaders, leaders of other nations? If the President won't lead America now, others must. 

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