Presidential politics move fast. What we’re watching heading into a new week on the 2020 campaign:
Days to general election: 197
The inconsistencies in President Donald Trump’s coronavirus response are evident as Democrats show new signs of unifying behind presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Heading into the weekend, the Republican president actively encouraged people to protest stay-at-home orders in a handful of battleground states led by Democratic governors. It could well exacerbate a political divide across America in the coming days.
Democrats, meanwhile, are showing new signs of unifying behind Biden following the sudden endorsements of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and former President Barack Obama. Biden still has glaring political liabilities, but as the coronavirus continues to define the political landscape, Democrats and Republicans seem to be moving in opposite directions.
THE BIG QUESTIONS
Why is Trump going to war with governors in the midst of a pandemic?
The president is a well-known counter-puncher. On Thursday, he issued guidelines for reopening the government, but on Friday he issued tweets that seemed to undermine those very guidelines, encouraging protesters in Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia.
Trump issued separate tweets calling to “LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” warning that Virginia was literally “under siege” for unrelated Second Amendment issues.
There is already evidence that his supporters are ramping up protests against strict social distancing guidelines. What will be the political consequences?
Is the Democratic Party already unified behind Biden?
This may be the best of times politically for Biden, who won three critical endorsements over the last week, none bigger than that of former rival Sanders. The Vermont senator sent a sharp message to his supporters, telling The Associated Press in an interview that it would be “irresponsible” to not support Biden.
At the same time, Obama stepped off the sidelines to publicly endorse Biden, and the former president and his wife are expected to do much, much more to help unify the party in the coming months.
While all that was certainly good news for Biden, a significant segment of the progressive base remains unhappy with his emergence as the presumptive nominee — including some of Sanders’ own staff. And it’s far from guaranteed they’ll show up for him come November. This week, Biden should offer some new clues about how seriously he’s taking the urgent need to unify his party.
Will another massive stimulus bill save the economy?
The Trump administration and Senate Democrats agreed on Sunday that they are close to finalizing another massive coronavirus spending bill.
Less than a month after Trump signed a $2 trillion rescue package, Congress is expected this week to approve legislation that could exceed another half a trillion dollars. Most of it is intended for small businesses, which complained the initial infusion was insufficient, although Democrats appear to have won tens of billions of dollars more for hospitals and expanded testing.
Nothing will matter more to Trump’s reelection than the state of the economy this fall. With record surges in unemployment in recent weeks, the president needs to find a way to stop the bleeding. He’s hoping this new package is another big step in that direction.
How do Democrats handle sexual assault allegation against Biden?
Trump’s team promised again in recent days that it would continue to highlight allegations of a decades-old sexual assault against Biden.
While Biden’s campaign has denied any wrongdoing, the president’s daughter-in-law and senior campaign adviser Lara Trump told us it was “fair game.” Most Democrats seem to be trying to ignore it, but New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said last week it is “legitimate to talk about.”
Trump, of course, has faced more than a dozen allegations of sexual assault.
THE FINAL THOUGHT
Trump hyper-charged the political debate over social distancing by openly calling on his supporters to defy elected officials in at least three states. In doing so, he smashed the hopes of anyone who believed he might emerge as a compassionate consoler-in-chief willing to rise above petty politics to lead a frightened nation.
Trump’s poll numbers are already slipping, but this is bigger than politics. Health experts are warning of deadly consequences should people begin moving away from social distancing recommendations too soon.