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The Morning Dispatch: Thursday Was One for the History Books
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The Morning Dispatch: Thursday Was One for the History Books

Plus, Sunday’s Democratic debate is dangerous for Biden.

Happy Friday. It’s been a tough few days for coronavirus news, and we hope you’re all staying safe out there. As a note of encouragement, we’ll remind you that the best thing you can do for yourself, your community, and your country as we fight this thing is to be diligent with the basic precautions of keeping up scrupulous hygiene and practicing social distancing. If we all pull together, we can all stay apart! Let’s get on to the news. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

Coronavirus Response Goes Into Overdrive

In yesterday’s Morning Dispatch, we covered President Trump’s Wednesday night address to the nation. The speech itself was riddled with serious errors. Trump said the new travel restrictions on Europe would apply to trade and cargo; he later had to clarify that they wouldn’t. He promised health insurance companies would “waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments;” they had only agreed to do so for testing. Bloomberg News has an excellent look at how the speech came together.

But policy pronouncements aside, the address served an important purpose: Trump finally seemed to get serious about the threat COVID-19 poses and the importance of Americans taking basic precautions to slow the spread of the virus, beyond just the economic effects. 

This shift in tone from the president continued into Thursday. “I made a very tough decision last night and a very tough decision a long time ago with respect to China,” he told reporters in the Oval Office. “I don’t want people dying, and that’s why I made these decisions. And whether it affects the stock market or not, very important, but it’s not important compared to life and death. So I had to make that decision.”

And affect the stock market it did: As noted, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 10 percent on Thursday, the largest intraday plunge since 1987, and did so despite the Federal Reserve announcing it would inject $1.5 trillion of liquidity into the market.

But whether it was Trump’s speech or Tom Hanks’ contraction of the virus (we’re only partially kidding, which news item do you think more Americans have heard about?), the nation appears to finally be taking the necessary steps that—in reality—we should have been taking weeks ago.

In a Twitter thread worth your time, Dr. Scott Gottlieb—Trump’s former Food and Drug Administration commissioner—wrote that we have “probably lost [the] chance to have an outcome like South Korea,” but we “must do everything to avert the tragic suffering being borne by Italy.”

Wednesday night sure seems to have represented a turning point in this effort. In the past 24 hours alone: 

  • The NCAA canceled both the men’s and women’s March Madness tournaments (and a bunch of other stuff).

  • Major League Baseball scrapped the remainder of spring training and delayed the regular season’s start by at least two weeks.

  • The National Hockey League announced it was “pausing” the 2019-2020 season.

  • Sunday’s Democratic debate was moved from Arizona to Washington, D.C.

  • All Catholic churches in Rome will be shuttered until April 3. All meetings and activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were temporarily canceled, effective immediately.

  • The United States Capitol closed to visitors. So did the White House. The Supreme Court is closed to the public.

  • Several members of Congress—including Sens. Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz—shut down their offices. Sens. Rick Scott and Lindsey Graham went into self-quarantine. 

  • The House Democratic Caucus canceled its upcoming retreat in Philadelphia.

  • New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art shuttered their doors. So, too, did Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

  • The Boston Marathon was postponed. The PGA Tour shut down all events leading up to next month’s Masters tournament.

  • Gatherings of more than 500 people were banned in New York. California and Maryland prohibited groups of more than 250.

  • Universal Pictures delayed the premier of Fast & Furious: F9 until April 2021.

  • All Broadway theaters are shuttered until at least April 12. Countless television programs will begin filming without studio audiences.

  • Both Disneyland in Anaheim and Walt Disney World in Orlando will close beginning on March 15.

  • The National Football League canceled its annual league meeting. The new XFL suspended its first season indefinitely.

  • Maryland closed public schools for two weeks. Ohio closed all schools for three.

  • Illinois’ governor asked all sports teams in the state to refrain from hosting events until May.

  • And perhaps most importantly:

If it wasn’t clear before, it sure is now: Life is going to be significantly disrupted for all of us for several weeks, if not months. And it stinks. Declan’s had MLB’s Opening Day circled on his calendar since the day after the Astros were mercifully denied a World Series title. Steve was prepared to dominate The Dispatch’s March Madness pool. Andrew gets 80 percent of his lunches every week from the Wienermobile.

But it’s important we take these precautions now. When the pandemic has subsided, we’ll be glad we did. As George W. Bush’s HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt said in 2007: “Everything we do before a pandemic will seem alarmist. Everything we do after will seem inadequate.”

The Pitfalls of Sunday’s Debate for Joe Biden

On the website today, Sarah has a piece arguing that, even though Bernie Sanders has no real path to the nomination, he has incentive to stay in the race. And that’s tough for Joe Biden. Read the whole thing here.

In 2016, the Democratic primary dragged on until June despite it becoming clear months earlier Hillary Clinton would win the necessary number of delegates to become the nominee. Long primaries—even ones where the outcome is all but certain—cost money and focus that can’t be redirected to the general election fight. It means not redeploying staff to general election states. It means spending money on turnout operations and mailers. And there is no more valuable resource in a campaign than the candidate’s time. 

But an extended primary fight also means the intraparty squabbling and attacks continue. As the months went by in 2016, Sanders refused to back off his attacks on Clinton as corrupt and untrustworthy. He didn’t endorse her until mid-July. 

Clinton herself blamed Sanders. His unrelenting attacks on her character, as Vanity Fair noted, “caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressives in the general election and paving the way for Trump’s ‘Crooked Hillary’ campaign.” The result? More than 12 million Obama voters from 2012 who either voted for Trump or stayed home. That includes the 35,000 or so votes spread across Michigan and Wisconsin that helped provide Trump’s Electoral College victory—both states that Sanders had won in the primary. 

A repeat of 2016 would be a nightmare scenario for the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign. The former vice president currently has above a 99 percent chance of winning the majority of delegates according to FiveThirtyEight’s538’s delegate projection model. He needs to revamp his entire campaign operation to focus on November—getting staff on the ground in Pennsylvania and Michigan and all the places the Clinton team neglected in 2016, for example. 

But Biden’s biggest weaknesses within the party can still be weaponized against him as long as the primary continues. He’s not as progressive as the base would like, and he has a tendency to stumble over his words, leading to questions about his mental fitness. Debates offer Sanders an opportunity to highlight both and cast doubt about the presumptive nominee among the very people Democrats will need to win in November.

Worth Your Time

  • There’s been a lot of talk lately about the importance of “flattening the curve,” or slowing the spread of COVID-19 to avoid overburdening our existing medical infrastructure. Aaron Carroll, a pediatrics professor at Indiana University school of medicine, writes in The Upshot that the biggest thing to worry about regarding the coronavirus is “the ability of the American health care system to absorb a shock.” He continues: “It’s estimated that we have about 45,000 intensive care unit beds in the United States. In a moderate outbreak, about 200,000 Americans would need one.”

  • Foreign Policy gives an overview of the latest coronavirus news from China, where people are returning to work in Wuhan and the government is now pushing propaganda claiming the virus didn’t originate in mainland China. 

  • The prepping industry was, ironically, not prepared for the level of demand for its products that coronavirus has brought. People across the country are making bulk purchases of medical supplies, canned food, and “bug out” kits—including those made by Preppi, a luxury doomsday prep brand that is carried by Nordstrom and at one time offered a $10,000 package that included real gold bars. Kate Knibbs has the full, fascinating story at Wired.

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • You’d hardly know it from this newsletter the last few days, but we’ve got some good non-coronavirus stuff up on the site this week too. Be sure to check out Tom Joscelyn’s latest Vital Interests newsletter (🔒), which examines Iran’s ongoing attempts to hide its nuclear program from foreign transparency and takes a close look at how the mullahs’ chummy relationship with China helps to shield them from accountability. 

  • Meanwhile, our podcast cup runneth over: In this week’s The Remnant, Jonah has an interesting interview with New York Times columnist Ross Douthat about his recent book The Decadent Society. And on the latest episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss President Trump’s coronavirus address, the 23-year sentence handed down to disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, and Hulu’s new docuseries on Hillary Clinton. Give it a listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

  • Speaking of David: His latest French Press (🔒) takes a look back over our nation at large’s response so far to the coronavirus outbreak, discusses the ongoing proxy conflict with Iran in Iraq, and fires off a bittersweet salute to the NBA season, cut down in its prime.

  • Up on the site today, Danielle Pletka has a piece walking through China and Iran’s botched coronavirus responses and arguing that “the epidemic itself is yet another piece of evidence that the United States should be in the business of exporting democracy, rule of law, and transparency.” 

  • Lastly, Jonah has a column wading into the debate over whether calling coronavirus “Wuhan virus” is racist.

Let Us Know

With people around the world canceling their travel plans and hunkering down, it’s been a hard time for the airlines, which are turning to some—uh—questionable advertising in an attempt to get fannies back in their seats: 

What other bits of tone-deaf ad pleading should we expect to hear from desperate brands in the coming days? 

  • Motel 6: “Prices have never been lower—and we’re cleaning the rooms now, too!” 

  • American Spirits: “Your lungs are giving out anyway. Why not at least enjoy yourself?” 

  • Frito-Lay: “Snacks to make diseases sick of you!”

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

Photograph of the empty box office at the Chase Center, where the Golden State Warriors play, by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.