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On the roster: Dem debates reach calamitous conclusion – Dems prep for Tuesday vote amid virus fears – U.S. gets closer to shutdown as virus spreads – That’s a real kick in the brackets
DEM DEBATES REACH CALAMITOUS CONCLUSION
It was a debate nobody needed. It was a debate that nobody but CNN and Bernie Sanders wanted.
But there it was for 120 awful minutes anyway, two crabby guys in their late 70s locked in an airless quarantine in the network’s Washington bureau. Statler and Waldorf, coronavirus edition.
Networks host primary debates in the name of making news — of providing their viewers with new, useful information about how to cast their votes. Parties sanction debates for the same reason, but also to try to limit the process to prevent undue damage to candidates or the overall brand.
Candidates do debates in the name of winning. But what happens if they’re there for other reasons?
Sanders’ claim last week in continuing his candidacy after getting thumped like an under-ripe melon in Tuesday’s vote was that he wanted one more chance to force Joe Biden to the left on key issues and keep him there — he acknowledged his inevitable defeat, but said he wanted to make a principled stand.
But the only discernible purpose of Sunday’s debate in practice was allowing Sanders (with the help of the moderators) to try to further hobble the party’s already spindly-legged presumptive nominee.
Sanders promised a final fight on the issues before uniting the party against President Trump. What he delivered was a relentless attack on Biden’s record, character and, by extension, the party that Sanders has never joined but long harassed.
Mathematically eliminated but viciously attacking the motives of those who oppose his positions is how Sanders has spent almost all of his 30 years in Congress, so it was a natural fit. After being taken dangerously seriously for a couple of weeks as the front-runner and getting tough questions, Sanders was back in his comfort mode: That of a foil for the press to demand of actual Democrats why they oppose world peace and universal health care.
Biden may be up two-to-one over Sanders in the latest national poll, but in that studio, it was four-to-one against Biden.
Sanders got to accuse Biden of — literally, folks — supporting “slavery” for migrant workers, of wanting to take away Social Security and of opposing gay marriage.
Sanders got just one tough question — a good one by Dana Bash on his own prior support for changes to Social Security — and one semi-tough question from Univision’s Ilia Calderón about his praise for the Castro regime. The rest of the time he was free to brain Biden.
The question that summed it all up for the event was this one from Jake Tapper to Biden: “The price tag for your climate plan is about $1.7 trillion. That’s about $14 trillion less than Senator Sanders wants to spend on this. Is your plan ambitious enough to tackle this crisis?”
How long ago did you stop beating Gaia, Mr. Vice President?
Democratic primary voters — the putative target of the broadcast — have said loudly and clearly for a year that their number one concern was electability, e.g. finding a candidate who can beat Trump.
Yet no one asked Sanders how he’d explain to swing voters the massive tax increases or what his response to Republican attack ads warning of economic disaster would be or how a far more modest cap-and-trade proposal once cost Democrats the House. Instead, Biden is asked why he cares about the planet $12.3 trillion less than Sanders.
Biden’s campaign had promised that their candidate’s intent was to show that there was “a place” for Sanders and his supporters in their coalition. From the look and sound of Biden, it was clear there was a place: A headlock or possibly even a swirly.
For married Americans who have in-laws who get along, this was an effective simulation of what dinner would be like with two fathers in law who absolutely detest each other.
Yelling, confusion, contempt, references to “the YouTube,” nitpicking and interrupting — it was all there. Just imagine everyone is salting their food before tasting it and angrily asking to substitute cottage cheese for something and you’ve got the complete experience.
And much like that dinner, nothing was revealed and nothing was resolved.
After what we assume (hope?) is the final installment of the debacle that was the Democrats’ 2020 debate regimen, consider this: There have been 11 of these contests and perhaps only two or three of them were worth a plugged nickel — ABC News and PBS/Politico were the standouts — for Democratic voters trying to make up their minds.
After effectively hobbling rising stars by jamming them into massively crowded stages with gadflies and goofballs — one was with 20 candidates! — and giving debates to opinion hosts, Democrats had essentially only one debate with the six real contenders. And they held it last month, after the voting had already begun. The party even found a way to grow the stage by returning Tom Steyer (!) for the debate before this one, CBS News’ food fight in South Carolina.
But the worst of it all is that they ended up in this culminating calamity.
After months of preventing tough, credible questioning of the actual contenders, the Democratic National Committee forced their last man standing to be locked in a room for hours in what felt like a senior-center performance of “Reservoir Dogs.”
What was worst for Democrats, however, was how unserious it made their presumptive nominee look at a time when voters are very much in the mood for sobersided, informed leadership.
With the race essentially over, the network could have relented and offered to delay the event pending the outcome of this week’s contests, or maybe do an hour-long virtual town hall where the candidates answer the concerns of voters about what has become the most substantial disruption to American life since 9/11.
It’s the Democrats’ own fault for screwing up their debate rules, but this certainly felt like a piling on.
THE RULEBOOK: LIBERTY IN CHECK
“The idea of restraining the legislative authority, in the means of providing for the national defense, is one of those refinements which owe their origin to a zeal for liberty more ardent than enlightened.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 26
TIME OUT: MORAL RESOURCES
Research fellow Lyman Stone explores how Christianity has been handling epidemics for 2000 years. Foreign Policy: “To find the moral resources to tackle COVID-19, both its possible death toll and the fear that stalks our communities alongside the disease, we have to look at the resources built in the past. For me, that means examining how people of my tradition, Christians, and especially Lutherans, have handled the plagues of the past. And while people of all faiths, and none, are facing the disease, the distinctive approach to epidemics Christians have adopted over time is worth dusting off. … Since religious bodies in South Korea, Singapore, Iran, Hong Kong, and even Washington, D.C., have been at the forefront of coronavirus transmission, this injunction is worth remembering. … The first sacrifice Christians must make to care for our neighbor is our convenience, as we enthusiastically participate in aggressive sanitation measures and social distancing. This kind of humble care for others is a powerful force. I’ve seen it at work in my neighbors in Hong Kong, whatever their beliefs.”
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ESTIMATED DELEGATES FOR DEMOCRATIC NOMINATION
[Ed. note: 1,991 delegates needed to win]
TRUMP JOB PERFORMANCE
Average approval: 44 percent
Average disapproval: 52.6 percent
Net Score: -8.6 percent
Change from one week ago: ↓ 0.8 points
[Average includes: NBC News/WSJ: 46% approve – 51% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve – 54% disapprove; CNN: 45% approve – 52% disapprove; Fox News: 47% approve – 52% disapprove; IBD/TIPP: 41% approve – 54% disapprove.]
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DEMS PREP FOR TUESDAY VOTE AMID VIRUS FEARS
WaPo: “Following their first one-on-one debate, former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are both staging virtual events Monday on the eve of another four key primaries in a Democratic presidential nominating contest transformed by the escalating coronavirus pandemic. Sanders plans to hold a ‘virtual campaign rally’ with celebrity guests, while Biden and his wife are hosting a ‘tele-town hall’ with voters in the four states holding primaries on Tuesday: Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio. Election officials have said they will proceed with the primaries, though Sanders questioned the wisdom of that during a post-debate interview Sunday. During the debate, Biden said he would pick a woman as vice president, as he sought to highlight his bona fides from his time in the White House with President Barack Obama. Sanders largely stuck to his familiar script, emphasizing his long history focusing on issues like health care.”
Biden continues to hold national lead on Sanders – NBC News: “With the Democratic nomination race now down to a one-on-one contest between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Democratic primary voters now back Biden — who was a distant second to Sanders just one month ago — by an overwhelming 2-to-1 ratio, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. The survey found that 61 percent of Democratic voters support Biden, while just 32 percent back Sanders. … Among all registered voters, Biden leads President Donald Trump outside the poll’s margin of error in a head-to-head contest. In a hypothetical one-on-one general election contest, 52 percent of all voters say they would choose Biden, while 43 percent say they would choose Trump. For Sanders, it’s 49 percent saying they would support him, while 45 percent back Trump.”
Biden holds 20 point lead in Arizona poll – Monmouth University: “Arizona’s Electoral College votes could be in play in November, according to a Monmouth University Poll of registered voters in the state. Joe Biden has a slight lead over President Donald Trump, while Bernie Sanders is basically tied with the incumbent. In tomorrow’s Democratic primary election, Biden has a 20 point lead over Sanders. The poll also finds that the Arizona U.S. Senate race could start off with a Democratic edge as well, with Mark Kelly having a 6 point lead [50% to 44%] against Martha McSally. In other poll results, a majority of Arizona voters are concerned about coronavirus hitting their family, but the level of concern varies widely by party affiliation. Among Arizona voters who are considered likely to participate in the Democratic primary for president, support currently stands at 51% for Biden and 31% for Sanders.”
Sanders hints Tuesday’s primaries should be postponed over coronavirus – Fox News: “Sen. Bernie Sanders seemed to suggest Sunday that this week’s Democratic presidential primaries should be postponed for safety reasons amid the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak. In a post-debate interview on CNN, Sanders, I-Vt., pointed to new guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people over the next eight weeks as the country grapples with the highly contagious COVID-19. … While some states are either considering postponing primaries or have already decided to do so, officials responsible for this week’s contests have shown little inclination to delay — instead stressing safety precautions in place.”
U.S. GETS CLOSER TO SHUTDOWN AS VIRUS SPREADS
AP: “Officials across the country curtailed many elements of American life to fight the coronavirus outbreak on Sunday, with health officials recommending that groups of 50 or more don’t get together and a government expert saying a 14-day national shutdown may be needed. Governors and mayors closed restaurants, bars, and schools as the nation sank deeper into chaos. Travelers returning home from abroad were stuck in line for hours at major airports for screenings, crammed into just the kind of crowded spaces that public health officials have urged people to avoid. In a sign of impending economic gloom, the Federal Reserve slashed its benchmark interest rate to near zero. President Donald Trump sought to calm a jittery nation by declaring the government has ‘tremendous control’ over the situation and urging people to stop the panic buying of grocery staples that has depleted store shelves nationwide. Gun stores started seeing a similar run on weapons and ammunition as the panic intensified.”
House coronavirus package hits road blocks – Politico: “The Senate will return to Washington Monday to work on a multi-billion dollar coronavirus package, but the bill remains hung up in negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House, according to multiple Capitol Hill sources. The Senate is expected to take up this week the massive bipartisan emergency package from the House to address the pandemic, after canceling its week-long recess. But much uncertainty remains over timing and logistics… Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were still working on the details Monday. House sources said Monday that ‘major differences’ remained between the White House and House Democrats over what was adopted and needed to be changed. This is slowing down the time table for House completion of the bill and sending it onto the Senate. Pelosi and administration officials still remain hopeful they can achieve a workable compromise, but were tight lipped about the state of play on Monday. The House passed its emergency package early Saturday morning but needs to make some technical corrections.”
Pergram: House’s coronavirus bill may be in trouble in the Senate – Fox News: “There is one school of thought that the Senate could simply take up the House bill and pass it on the spot. But frankly, the course is much, much harder than that. In fact, there are some technical problems in the drafting of the coronavirus legislation that requires the House to pass the bill again – perhaps with a skeleton staff – later this week. …[When] the Senate finally adjourned Thursday, it locked in a procedural vote at 5:30 p.m. et Monday – related to FISA. … Nothing pertaining to (at that point) any possible coronavirus bill. … In other words, if the Senate can wrap up FISA quickly, only then can the senators advance to the coronavirus bill. But if FISA is stalled, who knows. … A top aide to [Sen. Mitch] McConnell e-mailed the Capitol Hill press corps … [and] observed it would take the cooperation of 100 senators to start work on the coronavirus bill – regardless of FISA. But, since the House must still resolve problems with its own bill, McConnell suggested Sunday night that it would wait for the House to re-approve that measure.”
Note to journalists: With coronavirus, first things first – Boston Globe
SupCo postpones March oral arguments over coronavirus concerns – Fox News
President Trump ‘strongly’ considering pardoning Michael Flynn – WaPo
“Every American adult should immediately receive $1,000 to help ensure families and workers can meet their short-term obligations and increase spending in the economy.” – Sen. Mitt Romney, in a statement, called on the federal government to help Americans deal with the economic damage caused by coronavirus.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Given the insolence of some Coronavirus sufferers refusing to stay home in self isolation, why do governments not simply attach monitors to their ankles a la prisoners in home detention, to enforce their isolation?” – David Maegraith, Adelaide, Australia
[Ed. note: Don’t joke, Mr. Maegraith! Given what we’re seeing in Europe, it’s certainly possible the worse is yet to come. But unless we come to live in a truly authoritarian state like China, the government just won’t have the power to prevent contagion if the people refuse to comply. And here lies the riddle of liberal democracy: The system only works with a basically virtuous people. To give people maximum freedom, they must be capable of maximum self-control. Authoritarianism is both an answer to and cause of a hollow culture in which people cannot regulate themselves. In America, Australia and the rest of the Anglosphere, our systems rely on the fact that civic – and community – minded citizens will look after themselves and each other in times of crisis. (Looking at the botch the feds are making of things so far, it seems like a pretty good thing, too.) Maybe we are past the point where Americans and Aussies can organize themselves in little platoons to deal with matters such as these. Maybe we all need ankle monitors. But I don’t think so. I think we’re still made of tougher, more loving stuff than that.]
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THAT’S A REAL KICK IN THE BRACKETS
WaPo: “[Brandon Margolis], a television writer in Los Angeles, started looking into getting a vasectomy. … When the scheduler found an appointment opening for March 20, a day when there was supposed to be wall-to-wall college basketball on TV, Margolis, 39, responded, ‘That’s my day.’ His operation is still on as scheduled, but there won’t be any basketball — or nearly any live sports — to watch while recuperating. Nearly every major North American sports organization this week canceled or postponed its scheduled competitions because of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. That’s been, um, deflating for male sports fans who scheduled vasectomies to coincide with March Madness. Urologists have long seen a spike in appointments for the surgery timed to the tournament’s tip-off. Doctors generally prescribe 48 hours of bed rest after patients get snipped, a period that a great number of men choose to spend on the couch or in bed watching hoops while hoping their brackets don’t get busted.”
AND NOW A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“What’s at issue is not high principle but adaptation to a change in linguistic nuance. A close call, though I personally would err on the side of not using the word if others are available.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on Oct. 17, 2013.
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.