Presidential politics move fast. What we’re watching heading into a new week on the 2020 campaign:
Days to Wisconsin primary: 1
Days to general election: 211
President Donald Trump has entered the most critical stretch of his presidency. Each move he makes to manage the coronavirus pandemic carries enormous implications for the health and economic strength of the nation — and, of course, his reelection bid. This moment is about much more than politics, yet, as Steve Bannon tells us, “Every day for President Trump is now Nov. 3.”
THE BIG QUESTIONS
Can Trump avoid responsibility?
Even by his own admission, the coming days will be horrific for America as the death toll explodes and the related economic fallout deepens.
The president has gone to great lengths to avoid taking responsibility. He continues to allow state leaders to adopt their own patchwork system of social distancing policies while laying some of the blame for dangerous shortages of medical supplies on private businesses and state officials.
He appears to be laying the groundwork for a larger political argument just seven months before Election Day. Polling suggests that voters have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. This week we’ll almost certainly see new clues as to whether the strategy is working.
What is happening in Wisconsin?
Wisconsin this week offers an important test case in how to hold presidential elections in the midst of a pandemic.
The circumstances leading up to Tuesday’s primary elections are confusing at best. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has issued a statewide stay-at-home order and warned that holding the election is “an unnecessary health risk.” Yet Republicans in Washington and Wisconsin have fought Evers’ push to move the election to an all-mail ballot affair.
The messy lead-up comes as Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders face off in their first presidential primary contest in three weeks. The aftermath could be murky as well. A federal judge has extended the deadline for absentee ballots for almost a week, which means a winner almost certainly won’t be announced on election night.
Still, election officials across the nation will be paying close attention to what works and what doesn’t. More than 20 states have yet to host primary elections.
Will Bernie say goodbye?
For weeks, Sanders has resisted pressure to suspend his Democratic presidential bid. Wisconsin’s primary offers him a potential exit ramp should he continue to fall behind Biden — and polls suggest he will. Still, the Vermont senator is not eager to abandon a presidential campaign that gives him a major platform to push Biden to the left on key policies.
It is a delicate calculation for Sanders, whose thinking is further complicated by the unprecedented public health threat. Even Sanders’ inner circle may be conflicted about what to do. We wouldn’t be shocked if he got out this week or if he decided to stay in all the way to the convention (if there is one).
What’s happening with the veepstakes?
Not everything is on pause as Biden remains on lockdown in Delaware. The leading Democratic presidential contender told donors late last week that he’s forming a committee to oversee his vice presidential selection process.
He has offered several hints in recent weeks while promising only that his running mate would be a woman. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has emerged as a major player in the discussion as governors play a particularly important role in the coronavirus response, although high-profile senators such as California’s Kamala Harris are decidedly in the mix.
Look for new details to emerge about the vetting process and the short list itself in the days and weeks ahead.
THE FINAL THOUGHT
Few moments in the history of the United States have been more important than this one. It transcends politics, yet nothing will do more over the next year to shape Trump’s reelection effort than his leadership through this pandemic.
His response has been inconsistent on many levels, including late last week when he pointedly noted that he would not follow new federal guidelines promoting the wearing of masks. Trump has always put a premium on appearance, but the reality of the next few weeks and months will matter more.