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The Morning Dispatch: POTUS Broods While COVID Explodes
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The Morning Dispatch: POTUS Broods While COVID Explodes

Plus: A weekend of heated protests—and some violence—in Washington, D.C.

Happy Monday! SpaceX sent another four astronauts into orbit last night. We’ve got dibs on being aboard the next launch.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • In an interview with Defense One, Amb. James Jeffrey, Special Representative for Syria Engagement, admitted that he and his team misled senior White House leadership about troop levels in Syria. “We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there,” Jeffrey said, adding that the actual number of troops in Syria is a “lot more” than the 200 President Trump agreed to leave there in 2019.

  • Head of Operation Warp Speed Dr. Moncef Slaoui said on Friday he expects the United States to have enough vaccine doses available to immunize 20 million Americans in December and 25 to 30 million every month after that. The estimates are based on predicted success for the leading vaccine candidates developed by drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna.

  • NBC News on Friday projected its final two uncalled states—Georgia and North Carolina—for Joe Biden and Donald Trump, respectively. Recounts and lawsuits will continue, but Joe Biden is all but assured to win the Electoral College 306 to 232.

  • The Trump campaign was dealt a series of legal defeats over the weekend in their effort to overturn the election results. A lawyer for the campaign on Friday dropped the “Sharpiegate” lawsuit in Arizona’s Maricopa County, acknowledging that not enough votes were at stake to change the results of the election. A few hours later, a Michigan judge denied an emergency motion filed by two GOP poll workers requesting to halt the certification of an entire county’s results. On Sunday, Trump’s attorneys dropped allegations that Pennsylvania election workers violated the president’s constitutional rights by preventing his campaign’s observers from watching the count. Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said Friday the state would not be conducting an automatic recount for any statewide races, because no candidate finished within the 0.5 percentage point-threshold. Any recount would need to be paid for by one of the campaigns involved.

  • Sixteen assistant U.S. Attorneys charged with investigating irregularities in the 2020 election wrote a letter to Attorney General Bill Barr saying they had seen no evidence of substantial election fraud.

  • The Washington Post reported Friday that more than 130 Secret Service officers have recently tested positive for the coronavirus or have had to quarantine after close contact with those who have.

  • The United States confirmed 141,088 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 10.2 percent of the 1,390,128 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 628 deaths were attributed to the virus on Sunday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 246,206. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 69,864 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

The Coronavirus is Out of Control. The Federal Government is Asleep at the Wheel.

In the aftermath of an election, lame-duck Washington is always interesting, but usually in an academic, wonkish, abstract sort of way: The nuts and bolts of the transition of power, the gradual assembly of the new government’s supporting cast, the rollout of various policy agendas and the pundit chatter of what will and won’t have a chance to pass.

This year is different. A coronavirus vaccine is around the corner, but America (and much of the rest of the world) is struggling to deal with an explosion of new infections just months before it is set to arrive. The last two months of the Trump administration could be among its most consequential. How bad things look when Biden takes over in January will depend in large part on how the government responds to the growing threat now.

And yet, by all accounts, the Trump administration is asleep at the wheel, the president preoccupied instead with his increasingly futile efforts to throw out the apparent results of the presidential election. When we got one piece of unequivocally bright pandemic-related news last week—that Pfizer’s forthcoming COVID vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in preliminary data—the president’s immediate reaction was to gripe that they hadn’t announced it in time to buoy his reelection prospects.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that it’s been months since Trump attended a meeting of his own coronavirus task force, and it shows. On Friday afternoon, the president held a press conference to talk about the Pfizer news. It was reminiscent, in both tone and substance, of his press conferences back in March or April.

Trump boasted, as he often has since April, that “every American who needed a ventilator has had access to a ventilator.” A potential shortage of ventilators was indeed a major medical concern in the early days of the pandemic, but became less important as the months stretched on—partially because of a national mobilization to build more, but primarily because doctors just discovered that ventilators weren’t actually helping most COVID patients, and adjusted their treatment protocols accordingly.  

And Trump repeated, as he has since March, that “this administration will not go, under any circumstances, will not go to a lockdown” because “the cure cannot be—you’ve got to remember—cannot be worse than the problem itself.” But the challenge today is different from the one the country faced back in March and April, when there were low cases almost everywhere but uncertainty about how soon and how quickly to start opening back up. Now, spread is rampant around the country, and the question is not whether cities and states should implement tight restrictions once more, but to what extent the federal government will support them when they do. On that front, the president has had only this thought to offer:

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to block the Biden transition team from access to the official government resources they’ll need in order to hit the ground running come January.

“I have been through multiple transitions now, having served six presidents for 36 years,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN on Sunday. “And it’s very clear that that transition process that we go through, that time period measured in several weeks to months, is really important in a smooth handing over of information. … Of course it would be better if we could start working with them.”

MAGA Marches On

After President Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, millions of Americans took to the streets in cities across the country to protest—and vow to “resist”—the incoming administration. Just under four years later, thousands of Trump’s most ardent supporters descended upon Washington for a march of their own, supporting the president and adding their voices to his in contesting the outcome of this month’s election.

We sent one of our reporters, Audrey Fahlberg, to cover what has been dubbed the “Million MAGA March” on Saturday. She spoke to more than 20 attendees over the course of the day, and found that, unsurprisingly, many of President Trump’s (baseless) claims about widespread voter fraud and vote-switching machines have filtered down to his biggest fans. Her whole piece is up on the site this morning, but here are some of the highlights.

Many supporters attended out of a sense of duty—to President Trump and to the country. 

“President Trump for the last four years has always fought for us,” said Austin Scott, a 22-year-old from Nashville, Tennessee. “So we thought we’d come out and fight for him. Trump supporters don’t really get out in the streets like this, but we decided it was necessary this time. We had to do something.”

“He’s always been there for us,” 21-year-old David Jones chimed in. “So I had to come out here and be here for him.”

Many of the Trump supporters I spoke to traveled hundreds of miles to participate in the march. Charles Gilbert told me he came all the way from Georgia to make a stand for freedom. “I really believe that the media is trying to suppress the American spirit and they’re testing the American spirit,” he said as he began marching toward the Supreme Court, carrying a “Prevent Socialism” Smokey the Bear flag. “And so we came here today to say the American spirit for freedom is alive and well.”

Gilbert’s friend Mark Roberts, an Alabama native, added: “That’s it. I’ve actually never been proud of a president before. … Donald Trump is the first and only one that I can say that I am truly proud of. He’s just an American who loves this country, I think. And we’d like to return the favor if at all possible.”

Many at the March were absolutely convinced that Trump won the election—and that he will prevail.

“He won, hands down,” said Dawn Cline, who cited Trump’s lead on Election Night as foolproof evidence that Joe Biden stole the election. “Tuesday night when we went to bed, he was winning and then we woke up, and they stole it.” 

When pressed a bit further, Cline insisted that her theories about widespread voter fraud would be proven by the end of the day. “They found the Dominion software,” she said in reference to the debunked conspiracy theory that Dominion Voting Systems—a company that makes vote counting machines—intentionally manipulated vote counts in Joe Biden’s favor. “So it’s gonna all come out today, according to Trump’s lawyers,” Cline said. “So I’m just gonna sit back and wait for that to unravel.”

[New York teacher Susan Miller] was confident that Trump would remain in the White House for another four years. “I can’t tell you what I know,” Miller said. “But I can tell you we’re gonna win. When the voter fraud and basement Joe—China communist Joe Biden—for many years, with Little Hunter. … They’re going to find out where they’re going to go. Okay? Voter fraud is all over the country and mainstream media blocked it out because they’re in bed with the Democrats.” Miller told me she would take a bullet for the president.

After Audrey left the march, violence broke out between Trump supporters and counter-protesters.

Soon after the rally ended, violence broke out in the streets. At about 2 p.m. Saturday, I saw counterprotesters taunting Trump rally supporters while driving by in a parade of cars. They blasted the YG song, “F*ck Donald Trump,” while screaming obscenities at anyone wearing MAGA paraphernalia. The violence escalated later that evening. According to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s spokesperson, LaToya Foster, at least 20 people were arrested and two Metropolitan D.C. police officers were injured after violent skirmishes between rally attendees and counterprotesters. One person was also stabbed, according to a D.C. fire official. 

Commentators on the right have attributed this violence entirely to Antifa; commentators on the left have laid all the blame on the far-right Proud Boys group. It’s impossible to tell from context-free social media clips who instigated each specific scuffle (look how two videos of the same incident tell completely different stories)—and at some level, it doesn’t matter. Both fringe groups showed up on Saturday looking for a fight, and both got one.

Worth Your Time

  • For Rep. Elissa Slotkin—a self-described “Midwestern Democrat” who narrowly won reelection in a Michigan Congressional District that swung for Trump—internal divisions among Democrats pose an existential threat for a party increasingly defined by its fringes. “We sometimes make people feel like they aren’t conscientious enough. They aren’t thoughtful enough. They aren’t ‘woke’ enough. They aren’t smart enough or educated enough to just understand what’s good for them,” she tells Politico’s chief political correspondent, Tim Alberta. “It’s talking down to people. It’s alienating them. And there’s just certain voters who feel so distant from the political process—it’s not their life, it’s not their world. They hate it. They don’t like all that politics stuff. Trump speaks to them, because he includes them.”

  • After winning the presidential election with a larger share of the popular vote than any challenger since FDR, Joe Biden asked Trump supporters to give him a chance. But  when Biden takes the oath of office on January 20, he will do so with millions of Americans believing his presidency is  illegitimate—in large part because of Donald Trump’s incessant falsehoods and conspiracies. New York Times political reporter Astead Herndon traveled to Texas to see how Trump’s post-election message is playing and perhaps get a preview of the next four years. No matter the outcome of Trump’s legal battles, “I will not believe that the election was fair,” one supporter of the president told Herndon. “I will not believe that [Biden] is a legitimate winner.”

  • In a piece about Democrats’ fundamental misunderstanding of Hispanic voters, Antonio Garcia-Martinez highlights how socialism has increasingly come to define the left in the eyes of many in cities like Miami: “Miamians have heard this populist socialist rhetoric before: university-educated radicals rallying the working classes against the oligarchic upper classes, in the name of lofty and vague ideals that require a political revolution to implement, while accepting some urban violence as the cost of doing business. It’s the rhetoric of the Latin American Left—and many of the Hispanic voters of Miami wanted nothing to do with it.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Famed Republican election lawyer Ben Ginsberg joined Sarah and Steve on Friday’s episode of The Dispatch Podcast to break down Trump’s (thus far) baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud and how the GOP can appeal to a wider swath of voters. “If [Republicans] can avoid the circular firing squad and instead concentrate on positive policy ideas to appeal to voters,” Ginsberg argues, then “there is a chance for the resurrection of the party.”

  • Friday’s G-File takes aim at the “demography is destiny” trope, in light of Democrats’ apparent underperformance with Hispanic voters this year. Straight-line predictions, whether about how minorities will vote or whether Trump will control the GOP for “years to come,” will fail, Jonah writes. “Power—political power, electric power, physical power—is never in a steady state. … The only thing that makes a trend irreversible is a large enough failure of will to reverse it.” He expands on this theme—and more—in this week’s Ruminant

  • In Sunday’s French Press, David dives into the “cultural consequences of a very, very Republican Christianity.” Typically, white Evangelicals support Republican policies down the line, and this year’s election was no different. “This unity of church and party imbues all political disputes with an intensity far beyond their true eternal weight,” he writes. “And it does so on issues up and down the Republican platform, including on matters far beyond the classic culture war issues that allegedly define and motivate Evangelical political involvement.”

Let Us Know

Have you ever attended a political protest or march? If so, what motivated you to take to the streets?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), James P. Sutton (@jamespsuttonsf), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).