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The Morning Dispatch: It’s Joe Biden’s Race to Lose
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The Morning Dispatch: It’s Joe Biden’s Race to Lose

Plus, President Trump’s coronavirus response.

Happy Friday! As we wrap up our second week of the Full Membership Experience™, we wanted to once again express our heartfelt gratitude to all of you for making us part of your morning routine. Every day, we’re delightfully surprised by wonderful community this newsletter is fostering: over email, in the comments, and on social media. Have a great weekend, we’ll see you on Monday.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Elizabeth Warren announced she is suspending her campaign for president, expressing gratitude “for every single person who got in this fight.” The Massachusetts senator declined to make an endorsement, saying, “we don’t have to decide that this minute.”

  • The Senate voted 96-1 to approve $8.3 billion in funding to combat coronavirus. President Trump is expected to sign the legislation into law.

  • Gary Jones, president of the United Auto Workers union, was charged by federal prosecutors with tax evasion, racketeering, and embezzling more than $1 million.

  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer walked back his comments appearing to threaten Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, and contradicted the explanation given by his spokesman, saying on Thursday, “I shouldn’t have used the words I did, but in no way was I making a threat.”

  • Sen. Mitt Romney told reporters on Thursday Sen. Ron Johnson’s effort to subpoena Hunter Biden “appears political.” Romney added: “We also have a lot of work to do on matters that are not related to Burisma. We probably ought to focus on those things.” Romney could tank Johnson’s subpoena effort by voting against it in committee next week.

  • New polling from Pew Research Center finds that while 80 percent of Republicans agree with President Trump on many or all issues, just 31 percent of them (and 15 percent of all adults) like the way he conducts himself as president.

Biden’s Race to Lose

After what former DNC chairwoman Donna Brazile called the “most impressive 72 hours [she’s] ever seen in American politics,” the Democratic race is right back to where it was a year ago: Joe Biden as the best bet, with Bernie Sanders putting up a strong challenge.

Sure, there were some twists and turns along the way—Elizabeth Warren looked particularly formidable last fall, and Biden himself looked to be dead in the water as recently as the New Hampshire primary—but with Mike Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren ending their candidacies, we’re down to the race that most pundits were predicting in March 2019 (plus Tulsi Gabbard, who remains in the race with just two delegates).

So now that we’re here: How safe is Biden’s restored frontrunner status? The former vice president currently holds a 627-551 delegate lead over Sanders, though California and Colorado—both of which Sanders won—have yet to count all their ballots.

There are a combined 352 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, and Washington. And then 577 are at stake in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio the next week. And short a dramatic shift in the race, Biden looks poised to extend his lead over Sanders en route to the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

Sanders canceled an event scheduled for later today in Mississippi—essentially ceding the state to Biden, who won neighboring Alabama with 63.2 percent to Bernie’s 16.6—in order to go all in on Michigan, where, according to the Sanders campaign, the candidate will be holding four rallies between today and Sunday. On paper, it’s the correct decision: The Wolverine State is the most delegate-rich of the ones voting Tuesday, and it’s a state Bernie beat the odds to win in 2016, extending his challenge against Hillary Clinton.

The only problem? Biden’s looking strong in Michigan, too. There hasn’t been a ton of polling in the state—and events have changed so dramatically in the past week—but the most recent survey had Biden up on Bernie 29.2 percent to 22.5 percent—and that was with Mike Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar still in the race. Oh, and Biden picked up endorsements yesterday from Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and three members of the state’s House of Representatives delegation: Elissa Slotkin, Haley Stevens, and Brenda Lawrence.

“I hear from my constituents every day that they want an end to the all-or-nothing politics that have so polarized our country,” Slotkin wrote, taking several less-than-subtle shots at Sanders. “All-or-nothing doesn’t get us lower drug costs or more affordable health care. It doesn’t raise water quality standards. It doesn’t protect our country from national security threats that endanger every American.”

Before Biden surged, Sanders supporters mocked those who pointed out the moderate share of the vote in earlier primaries far outpaced support for Bernie. 

But now that the race has narrowed to two (plus, again, Tulsi Gabbard), the Vermont senators’ apparent ceiling (exacerbated by his apparent unwillingness to broaden his coalition through compromise) could do him in.

Biden won decisively in the south on Tuesday, yes, but he also won states like Minnesota and Massachusetts where his campaign had devoted little to no resources toward advertising or a ground game—in part because it had little to no resources left. 

The fact he got about $100 million in mostly positive earned media helped paper over some of those financial deficiencies earlier this week, but money shouldn’t be much of a problem for Biden going forward. His campaign has raised more than $20 million this week alone; the Unite the Country super PAC backing Biden’s candidacy is raking in millions as well. Mike Bloomberg is reportedly weighing how he can best deploy his vast resources to help Biden (within existing campaign finance laws), and staffers from fallen campaigns are migrating to his campaign to supplement his existing team.

With surveys from St. Pete Polls showing Biden with a 61 percent to 12 percent lead over Sanders in Florida or Ipsos giving him a 10-point advantage nationally among registered voters, Biden might’ve been on his way to the nomination even without these campaign reinforcements—but they certainly can’t hurt his chances.

“Folks … barring a seismic event,” elections analyst Dave Wasserman tweeted Thursday, “this race is pretty much over.”

The Parallel Tracks of Coronavirus Response

The federal government is still struggling to get a grasp on the ongoing coronavirus situation in the U.S. Earlier this week, the government announced two substantial changes to its coronavirus response policies: The FDA would permit private labs to create their own diagnostic tests for the disease, and the U.S. would open testing to anyone who wanted one, even if they were asymptomatic.

But Vice President Mike Pence, who is heading the White House’s coronavirus response, acknowledged Thursday that the government is not yet prepared to handle any spike in demand for test kits, as the virus continues to crop up in new locations.

“While universities and state labs have the ability to test, while kits are going out to hospitals, we want just every bit as soon as possible for your doctor, for your med check, for your local pharmacy to also be able to have coronavirus tests, working in partnership with our commercial labs,” Pence said. “We don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.”

Meanwhile, the raw numbers keep creeping higher. As of yesterday, there were 205 cases of the virus in the U.S., across 17 states, with new cases announced for the first time in Tennessee, Maryland, and Colorado.

It should be pointed out the uptick of cases doesn’t necessarily mean government efforts to combat the virus are failing. Keep in mind that media coverage of disease is always shaded by a substantial time delay and an initial lack of knowledge: Some people infected days ago are only just now beginning to show symptoms, and some people who have had the virus for days are only just now being identified as coronavirus patients. Another set of new cases is simply Americans trickling back into the country, being tested, and being quarantined.

But the breadth of the cases does underscore how difficult a task it will be for authorities to keep the virus quarantined in the coming weeks and months. With community transmission already taking place in Washington, California, and—only recently—New York, things could still get out of hand quickly.

Given the precariousness of the situation, it’s a little bewildering that Pence’s boss—President Trump—remains such a loose cannon on virus messaging. For most of last week, Trump seemed to have two main concerns about the virus: that it was knocking the shine off the stock market, and that he was being blamed for it.

Further, he seemed convinced that the disease wasn’t the threat some were making it out to be: American cases were “going down, not up,” he said at a news conference February 26. “We have it so well under control. I mean, we really have done a very good job.”

The increase in cases has forced a partial change in tune from the president, but it’s slow going. In a wide-ranging interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Wednesday, Trump repeatedly used their time discussing the virus to air his grievances that Sen. Chuck Schumer didn’t think he was doing a good job.

It’s in situations like this where the president’s inability to tune out his critics reveals itself to be a genuine problem. On the one hand, yes: The coronavirus outbreak has provided the occasion for many people who dislike the president to criticize him unfairly. During the Hannity interview, Trump argued that the coronavirus’s current 3.4 percent mortality rate was “really a false number,” because many people who showed only mild symptoms—or none at all—weren’t being tested. It was the same point that’s been made dozens of times by smart, knowledgeable people in recent days. Yet many pundits had a field day denouncing the president for “contradicting the medical community.”

But the most pressing question isn’t whether Trump’s beef is legitimate. It’s whether it’s in the best interest of the country for him to be preoccupying himself with such a beef at all.

Worth Your Time

  • The exploding cost of going to college is understandably a hot-button topic this election year, as young people’s anger over the Faustian bargain of college debt helps to fuel Bernie Sanders’s outsider presidential run. But while the Sanders conversation has focused on whether the government should step in to help relieve that debt burden, there’s another question worth asking, too: Why should universities be charging as much as they are? That’s what makes this Atlantic profile of Purdue University president Mitch Daniels so interesting: the former Indiana governor has brought his famously parsimonious management style from the statehouse to his current role, and the result has been a blossoming college that hasn’t raised its tuition since 2013. As an added bonus, the piece is written by the ever-dependable Andy Ferguson. Read the whole thing here.

  • Today, alas, is another day double-dipping The Atlantic, because today The Atlantic is the outlet asking the real questions, to wit: Why are these people so freaking old?

  • A few weeks back, we clued you in on how the U.K. was making plans to allow Chinese telecom giant Huawei to help build their nation’s 5G networks, ignoring U.S. pleas that to do so presented an unacceptable security risk. The effects of that decision are already being felt, as America moves to determine whether and to what extent Huawei’s involvement will render the Brits an unreliable intelligence partner once that network is fully built. This Bloomberg piece from Eli Lake is a helpful explainer of what’s coming next, and what’s at stake.

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

All of us know what it’s like to eat our feelings: Come home from a long, stressful day at the office and open up a pint of ice cream or bag of potato chips. Well, Elizabeth Warren’s golden retriever, Bailey, had a rough day yesterday with the campaign coming to a close. We approve of his coping mechanism:

Toeing the Company Line

  • In David’s latest French Press (🔒), he expands upon Jonah’s recent argument that conservatism and Republicanism are not synonymous. “Right-wing populism looks a lot more like pro-life progressivism than it does anything recognizably conservative,” he writes.

  • Jonah had Stephanie Slade, managing editor of Reason magazine, on The Remnant yesterday to discuss nationalism and religion in public life. Check out their conversation.

  • Yesterday’s Advisory Opinions was jam-packed: Super Tuesday, SCOTUS, FISA reform, qualified immunity, and arresting 6-year-olds. Sarah and David break it all down.

  • Today on the website, Jonah writes about how Sanders supporters have adopted Trumpian language to describe the Biden surge as a “coup” and the whole process as “rigged.”

  • Alec Dent makes his debut as fact checker, looking at activist Shaun King’s claim that MSNBC reported that the Democratic party was “interfering in the primaries” to stop Bernie Sanders.

Let Us Know

After Elizabeth Warren dropped out Thursday, a fight broke out between members of two prominent left-wing podcasts: Jon Lovett of Pod Save America, the show run by a group of former Obama staffers, and Will Menaker of Chapo Trap House, the notoriously vulgar flagship program of the Sanders-or-bust Dirtbag Left:

It was a bracing reminder that a narrowing Democratic primary field won’t do much to heal the divisions between the party’s various sorts of activists, which are sure to remain interesting to watch in the days ahead. But it also got us thinking: Why are we leaving eyeballs on the table by not beefing ourselves into fights with other prominent podcasters? If we were to lash out, which podcast should we lash out at?

  • This American Life—Why should we let those Beltway-elitist NPR pencil-necks tell us what it means to be an American?

  • The Remnant—Is it just us, or does this Goldberg guy need to update his closet of pop-culture references? 

  • The Ben Shapiro Show—Ben talks too fast for us to speed up the podcast playback, robbing us of the pleasant feeling that we’re lifehacking extra knowledge into our day.

  • The Fantasy Footballers—We followed those guys’ advice last year, and we lost!

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph of Joe Biden by Mario Tama/Getty Images.