No Virtual Trump

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

  • President Donald Trump on steroids: How scary is that?
  • Of course, Trump wouldn’t agree to a virtual debate. Public health, including protecting those necessarily around him, is hardly a priority. He needs a bully pulpit–which doesn’t lend itself to virtual arrogance and sniping. Recall how Trump made his literal entrance on to the 2016 presidential-candidate scene. No way would Donald and Melania Trump have merely exited the elevator at Trump Tower—as opposed to descending, in deus ex machina fashion, via a high-profile, optics-augmenting escalator with fans and media beseechingly awaiting. An actual “debate” is not what a reality-TV narcissist does, but an in-person event can accommodate the art of the unhinged performance.   
  • Veep Debate: Without saying so, a key goal in the vice-presidential debate was to not look anything like the embarrassing, chaotic presidential version. Mission accomplished, however subterranean low the bar. Neither challenger Kamala Harris nor Vice President Mike Pence had a game plan that featured the upstaging of decorum. But Pence, by interrupting in a civil fashion, did upstage Trump by seeming normal.

The other dual goal was to look like someone who could top the ticket in 2024. Harris has history-making demographics, a sharp prosecutorial mind, a progressive agenda and political charisma. Pence does not look like the second coming of Benito Mussolini.

Memorable lines: “They’re coming for you.”—Harris on the millions of Americans who will lose out if the ACA is repealed.  “Stop playing politics with people’s lives.”—Pence with a straight face. But no answer from Harris on the question of “court packing,” and no answer from Pence on the peaceful transition of power. And nothing but rhetorical pivots by either candidate on whether they’ve had succession conversations with their septuagenarian running mates. You know Harris has.

  • “I feel like perfect.”—That was, like, the imperfectionist-in-chief, Donald Trump.
  • “An intervention.” What House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for by those around Trump, because “something’s wrong.”
  • Beyond ironic for the one who equates the Biden candidacy with the “Trojan Horse of socialism” to be the most prominent beneficiary of socialized medicine in the United States.
  • “Don’t Cry for Me, MAGA Minions”: The super spreader-in-chief on his White House Blue Room Evita/Fuhrer balcony, rallying a crowd of cult fans practicing social proximity.
  • Here’s the question some Democrats on the Judiciary Committee would surely have liked to have asked Amy Coney Barrett, even if it is better suited for “Saturday Night Live.” “To what degree are you—in the midst of an honorable and distinguished law career—embarrassed by having been nominated by the most unscrupulous, divisive, immoral, vile and unlawful president in the nation’s history?”
  • “Blexit”: The Trump campaign plan to encourage black and Latino voters to leave the Democratic Party and become GOPsters.
  • “(Biden’s) the camouflage to get Kamala Harris in. He’s the camouflage to get Bernie Sanders in … AOC.”—That was Donald Trump Jr. during a Tampa stop of his “Fighters Against Socialism” bus tour.
  • “I’m immune.”—President Donald Trump. “We’re not.”—America’s democratic republic.
  • Out of an abundance of caution, voters should not even think of re-electing Trump.

COVID Bits

“AloneTogether”

  • Globally, more than 36 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported—including more than 1 million deaths. In the U.S.: approximately 800,000 cases and 215,000 deaths.
  • Peru has the highest mortality rate from COVID-19 in the world.
  • Broadway theaters, which closed March 12, will remain closed until May 30.
  • “Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life.”—Super spreader-in-chief Donald Trump.
  • Trump and his physician spin doctor continue to test positive for communication opaqueness.
  • Health experts advise a 14-day quarantine for people who have been in contact with those who have the coronavirus.
  • Tampa General Hospital has consulted with multiple entities, including the Florida Aquarium, the Straz Center for Performing Arts, the Tampa Bay Lightning and TECO. It will also consult with the Florida Senate to develop a plan for the 2021 legislative session.
  • Under (14-day) quarantine: Hillsborough County Public Schools superintendent Addison Davis after a person he came into contact with tested positive for COVID-19.

Dem Notes

“Yes, we can.”

  • Joe Biden is a Pennsylvania native, and the Keystone State is a key swing state that the Dems need back in their column. Moreover, Pennsylvania is also home to Gettysburg. For obvious reasons, it made good strategic sense to stage a Biden speech near the iconic Civil War battlefield that still serves as the ultimate symbol of a country divided. It was the spot-on site for a candidate, not unlike Abraham Lincoln, calling for national unity amid a crisis. “Today, once again, we are a house divided,” said Biden, invoking Lincoln.

The analogy is all too apt. Nineteenth century secession and a devastating civil war is the existential counterpart of a 21st century era rife with ruinous partisanship, autocratic leadership, racial upheaval and economic crisis–plus a pandemic and planet-threatening climate change. We can not afford an incompetent, negligent, immoral authoritarian wannabe with the country—and planet—at an onerous inflection point. Who the president is matters no less in 2020 than it did in 1863. “Instead of treating each other’s party as the opposition, we treat them as the enemy,” said Biden during his 22-minute, outdoor speech. “This must end.”

Yes, Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes are critical for both parties, but winning the “battle for the soul of the nation” is far more important. A pandemic can’t be a partisan political issue. Neither can global warming. Nor racial equality. This must end.

  • Polls consistently show Biden with a substantial national lead over Trump. More notable than most is Rasmussen Reports, a favorite, go-to pollster for the Trump campaign, that has Biden with a double-digit lead.
  • As a female candidate of color, Kamala Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, could make obvious history—and help the cause to win back Florida, the mega swing state with myriad diverse-minority communities. Among them: more than 300,000 Jamaicans. And it matters that Harris’ chief of staff is the media-savvy Karine Jean-Pierre, a black woman born in Martinique to Haitian parents. It also helps that the Biden campaign’s senior adviser for Florida is Karen Andre, a first-generation Haitian-American.
  • “If Joe Biden wins big, part of the reason…will be simply that he is normal. And people miss normal so much.”—Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal.

Media Matters

  • The Nixon-Kennedy debates. There were three in 1960—and one of them was virtual. Nixon was in a TV studio in California; Kennedy in a studio in New York. So, yes, there is precedent, even with the unprecedented Trump as president.
  • Recall that in 2016 Trump didn’t carry his home Manhattan district—you know, the one that knew him best. Now he’s changed residences—and tax scenarios—by making Florida his Mar-a-Lagoed, home state. Now his new hometown newspaper, the Palm Beach Post, has endorsed Joe Biden. To wit: “(Biden) will heed the advice of scientists to protect public health, push to increase access to affordable health care for everyone, fight for reasonable and popular measures for gun safety. That’s what the leader of any modern, developed nation is supposed to do.”
  • “Masks Required Beyond This Point. Please wear masks over both your nose and mouth at all times.” That’s what a sign on the door of the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House says. It has a makeshift look for good reason. It wasn’t put up by the White House. It was actually affixed by the correspondents who have to show up for press briefings and interaction as needed with White House officials.
  • “The only place on the White House grounds where a mask has been required is the White House press area, and the only people who have routinely violated that rule have been White House staff.” That was Jonathan Karl, ABC’s chief White House correspondent.
  • “I felt safer reporting in North Korea than I currently do reporting at the White House. This is just crazy.” That was CBS News correspondent Ben S. Tracy.
  • The post-hospitalization, 30-second, Trump campaign TV ad that includes Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s pre-eminent immunologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is not playing well with—Dr. Fauci. A narrator says: “President Trump tackled the virus head on as leaders should.” That was directly followed by a (March) clip of Dr. Fauci saying: “I can’t imagine that anybody could be doing more.” It’s out of context. Dr. Fauci was not referring to Trump–but to efforts of federal public health officials before mismanagement and chaos became self-evident and America became the leader in COVID deaths. Moreover, permission to use (part of) a clip from a Fox News interview was never asked, because it would not have been granted. Dr. Fauci doesn’t endorse. The ad, disingenuously, implies otherwise.
  • Last Saturday’s SNL cold opening focused on the vice-presidential debate. Fair enough. But there’s a manifest difference between politically spot-on satirical and over-the-top, quit-while-you’re-ahead silly. Speaking of the latter, the Jeff Goldblum-homage fly in the Pence ointment was all it took. Not even debatable.

Sports Shorts

  • Tom Brady and the fourth-down fiasco: from GOAT to goat?
  • The Rays’ road to the World Series runs through the Houston Astros. We all know Houston’s “cheater” back story. But this time they were helped—not by prohibited video-taping—but by the coronavirus. MLB’s truncated season was reduced from 162 to 60 games. Houston lost 31 of them. How does a team play its way into a possible World Series with a regular-season losing record? Only with the ironic help of a pandemic.
  • For the record, the New York Yankees have a pandemic-impacted 2020 payroll of $109 million, the highest in the major leagues. That’s about four times more than the Rays’ payroll of $28 million, which is 28th out of 30 teams. It’s what helped make the Rays’ elimination of the Yankees so sweet—in addition to that karmic home run hit by Mike Brousseau against Aroldis Chapman, the one who had thrown a 101 mph fastball at his head last month.
  • Nice schadenfreudian touch after the Rays clinching game five against the Yankees in San Diego. Some Rays players lingered long on the field still celebrating with cigar smoking and dancing when the Petco Park sound system cranked out “New York, New York.” Frank Sinatra never sounded better.
  • Success is REVENGE.”—A shout-out tweet from San Diego outfielder Tommy Pham, who was with the Rays last year.
  • Admirable that the NBA and its player association are behind a societal get-out-and-vote campaign. High-profile advocacy can help influence others. Ironic, however, that an estimated 20 percent of NBA players voted in 2016.
  • “I’ve never voted before in my life.”—Retired NBA star Shaquille O’Neal’s admission after recently sending in an absentee ballot.

Quoteworthy

  • “Today, in many countries, hyperbole, extremism and polarization have become political tools.”—Pope Francis.
  • “(Trump) is aiding and abetting Vladimir Putin’s efforts by not being direct about this. This sustained campaign of disruption, disinformation and denial is aided by any leader who doesn’t acknowledge it.”—Retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a former national security adviser to Trump.
  • “Russian operatives did not invent our crude tribal politics; they invented internet personas to whip them up. American politicians reduced the country to red and blue states; Russian operatives purchased online ads to target voters on both sides of the domestic divide. … The biggest risk to this election is not the Russians, it’s us.”—Fiona Hill, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and a former official of the U.S. National Security Council, specializing in Russian and European affairs.
  • “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.”—Jim Mattis, former defense secretary under Trump.
  • “Hate. … It’s a contagious virus that easily infects people afflicted by the pre-existing conditions of ignorance and fear.”—Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune.
  • “A virus that both leaders shrugged off as neither a personal nor a political threat may yet bring them down.”—Jenni Russell, The Times of London, referring to both British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Donald Trump.
  • “Presidents make these decisions based on politics over medicine. And there is an inherent conflict between politics and medicine.”—Presidential author Matthew Algeo, in reference to Trump’s repeated requests to be discharged from Walter Reed hospital as

well as his denial of the seriousness of the coronavirus.

  • “I don’t understand the resistance to a virtual (presidential) debate. We have moved much of our lives online. The technology is there. Why the insistence on an in-person debate?—University of Florida epidemiologist Natalie Dean.
  • “What’s alarming is that each diagnosis in the White House demonstrates how thoroughly this administration has been infected by its own disinformation.”—Michelle Goldberg, New York Times.
  • “A perfect physical specimen.”—How Trump described himself in a post-hospitalization interview on the Fox Business Network
  • “Waiting until after the election to reach an agreement on the next COVID-19 relief package is a huge mistake.”—Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
  • “The hope of Republicans was that the Barrett nomination could save them, that she’d shine like a star and put some new wind in the sails. That’s all that we would be talking about right now.”—Stephen Moore, a member of Trump’s economic task force.
  • “The GOP is inhospitable to conservatives, moderates and people of decency and courage. … America needs a sane, serious, humane, center-right party that aims to persuade, not to dominate. This GOP is not that.”—Mona Charen, the Bulwark.
  • “You were looked down upon when you would walk by with a mask.”—Olivia Troye, formerly one of Mike Pence’s top aides on the coronavirus task force.
  • “Let (Trump) howl at the moon all he wants. He’s scared. And he has good reason to be.”—Eugene Robinson, Washington Post.
  • “Trump might lose women voters by numbers we’ve never imagined.”—Tim Alberta, Politico.
  • “Trigger City.” The Tampa Bay chapter of the Proud Boys.
  • “When it comes to children being online, there is no such thing as being too protective as a parent.”—Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister.
  • “These things are never staring at their cell phones, and they never drink.”—District transportation secretary David Gwynn, on the debut of downtown Tampa’s Beep autonomous shuttle.

Trump Is Contagious

 “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

  • Out-of-the-mouth-of-knaves update: “I don’t wear masks like him.” Recall, that was Donald Trump’s predictable, surly—and beyond ironic—taunt directed at Joe Biden during their regrettably repellent first (and hopefully final) debate. But some things cannot be masked. Trump’s hubris, cavalier attitudes and utter indifference to truth and responsible leadership are foremost. Even though he had a mask with him—in his coat pocket—that he pulled out dismissively as a prop. It’s what a reality-TV performer does.

It was a prime example of arrogant misleadership, diversionary optics and a sobering reminder that none of it will end as long as there’s Trump political contagion in the White House. As the personification of recklessness, Trump can’t set an example for prudent, societal self-protection. Plus, he doesn’t believe in transparency and still hasn’t apologized for the mismanagement and lies that have needlessly cost thousands of American lives.

And then he tested positive for the coronavirus.

Given what he has put America through, it’s no surprise that polls show no sympathy bounce for Trump. Then his hospitalization and treatment devolved into an exercise in  theatrics and media manipulation, including medical double talk. And then, most blatantly, there was his spin around Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to wave to fans when he still should have been in isolation. His Secret Service handlers, presumably, took one for the team.

The best we can hope for is a teachable-moment duality. First, that Trump becomes Exhibit A for what can happen to anyone not taking common-sense, public-health measures such as masks and social distancing. Even one who revels in crowd worship and face time with minions. As a result, maybe even cult followers can ostensibly see the folly of characterizing mask-wearers as wimps and those without them as avatars of freedom. And, oh yeah, masks can also protect jobs and our national economy. Second, the super spreader-in-chief has ultimately—and inevitably—arrived at the convergence of karma and Faust. Leave it at that.

  • An abundance of caution.” That was the reasonable rationale for taking President Trump to Walter Reed Medical Center. Too bad “abundance of caution” wasn’t in evidence since the onset of the pandemic.
  • “Look, we have a great vice president. We have a government that is steady at the tiller. We’re prepared.” That was National Security Adviser Tim O’Brien, when asked about contingency plans if the president were incapacitated.
  • According to unidentified White House sources, Vice President Mike Pence has tested positive for evangelical hypocrisy and sycophantic fealty to Trump.
  • The point is not that Trump “misspeaks.” This president misthinks and misacts. As a result, the country is misinformed, mismanaged, misled and misgoverned.
  • “1776 Commission”: What Trump says he will create to advance a new “pro American” curriculum and help “restore patriotic education to our schools.” It’s necessary, says Trump, to counter revisionist ideas about the nation’s founding and history that has led to a generation of “Marxist” activists and proponents of “critical race theory.” Joe Goebbels would have agreed.
  • Amid the turmoil of all things Trump-related–from Proud Boys shout-out to presidential coronavirus–we don’t pay much attention to the United Nations these days. But there was a notable—and quotable—moment the other day with the U.S. ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft trying, unsuccessfully, to pressure that world body into enforcing new economic sanctions against Iran. “We will stand alone to protect peace and security at all times,” said Craft. “We don’t need a cheering section to validate our moral compass.” But it would, arguably, help to have the UN and the EU on our side.

BTW, Kelly replaced Nikki Haley and has been UN ambassador for a year. Prior to that, she was the Trump-appointed ambassador to Canada. Prior to that, she and her husband donated more than $2 million to the Trump campaign. Prior to that, she was a delegate from Kentucky to the 2016 Republican National Convention. That’s how that works.

  • Speaking of things international, one of America’s most outspoken ambassadors, Pete Hoekstra, made news recently—and that’s never what a diplomat wants to do. But Hoekstra, the Trump-appointed envoy to the Netherlands, held a fund-raising reception for a far-right Dutch political party, the Forum for Democracy Party, in the American embassy. Hosting a political fundraiser is more than just undiplomatic. On its face, it’s considered interference in domestic politics and a violation of the (1961) Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Hoekstra is a conservative former GOP congressman from Michigan who helped found the Tea Party caucus.
  • Stare decisis”: We could soon be hearing more of this Latin (“to stand by things decided”) phrase as we approach the confirmation hearing on SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett. It has to do with precedent, as in, say, Roe v Wade. “Stare decisis,” Judge Barrett has written, is “not a hard-and-fast rule in the court’s constitutional cases.” Stay tuned.
  • Melania F. Trump is in the news for reasons beyond a positive COVID test. Some unflattering quotes are attributed to her in the book “Melania and Me,” by her former advisor Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. Somehow the Worst Lady managed to work Christmas and an F-bomb into the same sentence.
  • “There was always just enough virtue in this republic to save it; sometimes none to spare.” That was William Seward, President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state, weighing in soberly—and, alas, presciently—on America’s still fragile democratic republic.
  • The infighting Irish: Bad luck–and optics–for Notre Dame to see its president, Rev. JohnJenkins, test positive for COVID less than a week after having attended the Rose Garden ceremony–sans mask and seen shaking multiple hands–for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. “I regret my error of judgment,” said Rev. Jenkins, 66, who is a member of the Commission on Presidential Debates. “I failed to lead by example.” Too bad that candid admission didn’t come from that other president.

And speaking of awkward optics, recall that former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz spoke at the Trump-fawning, virtual Republican National Convention.

COVID Bits

“AloneTogether”

  • Countries whose leaders have been infected by the coronavirus: United States, Great Britain, Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, Bolivia.
  • Masks are (still) not mandatory at the White House.
  • It’s official. To the surprise of no one, the February, pre-Lenten Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is canceled because of the pandemic. To date, Brazil has already reported more than 4.6 million cases and nearly 140,000 deaths. And Carnival doesn’t exactly lend itself to a virtual experience.
  • 6,000: The maximum number of pilgrims allowed per day to enter the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
  • During October, TIA is rolling out a first-of-its-kind initiative by doing coronavirus testing right in the terminal. TIA is teaming with BayCare Health System to offer the voluntary testing for every passenger departing from or arriving at the airport. Costs range from $57 for a rapid antigen test to $125 for a polymerase chain reaction swab.
  • 277,000: The number of schoolchildren in 38 states who have tested positive.
  • 28,000: The number of employees who will be laid off by Disney across its theme-park division in the U.S. About 6,700 layoffs are expected to hit non-union workers at Walt Disney World starting Dec. 4.
  • 7.9 percent: U.S. unemployment rate for September. 8.4 percent: U.S. unemployment rate for August. 14.7 percent: U.S. unemployment rate for April.
  • 2,000: The number of people in Florida who are in the hospital with a primary diagnosis of coronavirus. 420: The numbers for the Tampa Bay area.
  • “Infodemic”: Falsehoods involving the pandemic.

Dem Notes

“Yes, we can.”

  • One challenge for the Biden campaign is to remain careful with its response to Trump being hospitalized for COVID. No rhetorical spiking of the coronavirus ball; no public “poetic justice” references, however appropriate and tempting. Maybe this is the one time that the sincerity-challenged, “thoughts and prayers” cliché would suffice. Good move to take down negative campaign ads for now—and just maintain the country-first, anti-racism, pro-science, positive message of unity, competence, decency and empathy—plus education, infrastructure and tax-and-health-care policies and plans. No need to risk disrespecting the office of the presidency, however loathsome its occupant, when sheer juxtaposition to a Biden agenda–and character–should say it all.   
  • Although it’s quite the high-profile compliment, we won’t be seeing it in a Joe Biden ad—but maybe in a Biden memoir. That’s because the person who once called Biden “as good a man as God ever created” is Sen. Lindsey Graham.
  • The vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris carried a context we haven’t seen before. Their presidential ticket mates are both septuagenarians. Not a time for a Dan Quayle or a Sarah Palin.
  • We know that the Republicans are not conceding the Hispanic vote—and are going after more than Cuban-American voters. Trump kickstarted it by telling voters that “Joe Biden is just a Trojan horse for socialism,” which was intended to strike fear in those whose families have lived under the likes of Cuba’s Fidel Castro as well as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. Hopefully, the blatant pandering will encounter a demographic that above all, fears all authoritarians—and understands that American “socialism” doesn’t mean a dysfunctional command economy controlled by autocrats and oligarchs. That there’s a difference between Denmark and Cuba/Venezuela.
  • Dec. 14: That’s when the electoral college meets. It’s usually a ceremonial confirmation of the choice made by voters. Nothing about this Dec. 14 looks merely ceremonial.

Media Matters

  • Get well—and get it together.” That was CNN’s Jake Tapper in wrapping up his Sunday “State of the Union” show with an editorial on the president’s mismanagement of the coronavirus.
  • This was Sen. Rick Scott during a recent appearance on Fox News. “I was tested yesterday, I think for the sixth time, and I tested positive again.” Say what? Oops. He actually meant negative. He tested positive for misspeaking.
  • “If I could say one thing to all of the people out there watching: Forget the politics. This is a public safety health issue. Wear the damn mask.”—Fox News anchor Chris Wallace.
  • “I worry because Facebook and Twitter have become giant engines for destroying the two pillars of our democracy—truth and trust.”—Thomas Friedman, New York Times.