On the menu today: CPAC returns and promises to be a multi-day Trump rally, looking back at how much spectacularly bad health advice that experts inside and outside government were giving Americans one year ago, and the Chinese government finds a new way to be a pain in American diplomats’ rears.
Is It Time to Rename CPAC ‘TrumpPAC’?
The Conservative Political Action Conference moved to Florida this year because the usual site, the Gaylord Resort in National Harbor, Md., has too many coronavirus restrictions. (You may recall that someone with COVID-19 attended last year’s gathering and spent time with several congressmen.) We’ve already had the now-almost-traditional cancellation of a scheduled speaker because of hideous previous statements. (Boy, who could have figured that a guy calling himself “Young Pharaoh” would hate Jews? That guy better watch himself; we’ve still got nine more plagues to go.) Our Tobias Hoonhout previews the event here.
The event will probably feel like a multi-day Trump rally, although you’re starting to see some grumbling that corporate sponsors can help shape the programming. (Then again, how many big events and conferences feature a speaker criticizing any of the sponsors?)
Judging by poll numbers, the Republican Party is still Donald Trump’s party, and it’s not close.
But that may gradually change as the fights over policy in the Biden era advance. It’s still an open question how — and how much — a Twitter-less Donald Trump will influence the political world while out of office.
And it’s particularly fascinating that the former president has decided to set up the terms of control over the party as a battle between himself and Mitch McConnell. Trump is down in Mar-a-Lago and has been pretty quiet since leaving office. (The website DonaldJTrump.com has issued no new statements since January 13.) Impeachment has come and gone. The discussion about January 6 is now moving on to the establishment of a bipartisan commission to investigate.
McConnell still leads the Republicans in the Senate, and there’s no real noise about any other Republican challenging him for leadership in the chamber. And it remains a 50–50 Senate; if Patrick Leahy or Bernie Sanders slip on some ice, or Joe Manchin gets fed up with his Democratic colleagues, McConnell will become Senate majority leader again.
The focus of the Republican Party in Congress is now entirely upon the actions of the Biden administration: opposing the nominations of Neera Tanden and Xavier Becerra, the administration’s increasing antagonization and alienation of deal-minded Republicans, the blocked deportation moratorium, and trying to knock off or shrink a waste-laden Christmas tree bill that’s being called a “COVID-relief bill.” Congressional Republicans have work to do; they’re not going to wait for instructions from a retired president who’s working from his golf course.
A political movement’s strength is usually measured in elections; unfortunately, 2021 is an off year, and it’s too early to say if we will see any clear Trump vs. McConnell proxy battles. On March 20, Louisiana holds special House elections in the second and fifth congressional districts, and if no one wins a majority of the vote in those races, there will be runoffs on April 24. On April 6, Wisconsin holds elections for the state superintendent of public instruction, several court-of-appeals judges, a circuit-court judge, and a handful of special elections in the state legislature. Virginia and New Jersey will have governor’s races this year, and New York City will have its mayor’s race.
Hey, How about a Bipartisan Commission to Study Bad Virus Advice in Early 2020?
Right now, I think “Covid One Year Ago” might be my favorite Twitter account. No wonder so many Americans tune out health authorities inside and outside of government. You read some of these confident assurances from early-to-mid February 2020 and are thankful the pandemic wasn’t even worse, because health officials did everything short of encouraging us to cough in each other’s faces to demonstrate that they wouldn’t be influenced by xenophobia.
February 5, 2020, Los Angeles Times: “How to prevent coronavirus: Wash your hands and ditch the mask.”
February 5, 2020, USA Today: “US surgeon general: Americans should be more concerned about the flu than coronavirus.”
February 6, 2020, Bloomberg News: “How to Avoid Coronavirus on Flights: Forget Masks, Says Top Airline Doctor”
February 9, 2020, New York City Health commissioner Dave Chokski: “Today our city is celebrating the LunarNewYear parade in Chinatown, a beautiful cultural tradition with a rich history in our city. I want to remind everyone to enjoy the parade and not change any plans due to misinformation spreading about coronavirus.”
February 17, 2020, USA Today: “[Dr. Anthony] Fauci doesn’t want people to worry about coronavirus, the danger of which is ‘just minuscule.’ But he does want them to take precautions against the ‘influenza outbreak, which is having its second wave.’”
February 18, 2020, California Healthline: “In the Alhambra Unified School District, where about half of the students identify as Asian, administrators discourage the use of face masks and try to explain to families that they don’t protect from disease, said Toby Gilbert, a spokesperson for the district. That is sound scientific advice.”
February 20, 2020, KERA, the north Texas NPR affiliate: “Experts Say Coronavirus Poses A Low Risk To The U.S. — So Why Are We So Afraid?”
On February 22, 2020, ABC News reported, “Health experts warn life-saving coronavirus vaccine still years away.”
I suppose that one problem is that certain media institutions will treat just about anyone who wears a white coat or who has the right degree as a “health expert.” Another may be that health officials who work for government are so conditioned to respond to every public-health concern with “there is no need to panic” — really, when is there a need to panic? — and are so used to insisting that everything is under control that they simply couldn’t get their heads around the signs that this was a top-tier emergency and the virus was nowhere near under control.
Meanwhile, this newsletter, back on January 30, 2020:
Right now, things look pretty ominous. The World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus outbreak a global-health emergency. The U.S. is expanding screening at 20 airports. Some Asian countries are seeing a run on medical supplies, including hand sanitizer and masks. Probably the single most frightening aspect is the possibility that either the Chinese government is still guessing at how far the virus has spread, or that they’re not being honest about the risk. Hopefully, this outbreak runs its course with minimal casualties. But many countries may look at this experience and wonder afterwards . . . just how much interaction in trade and travel do we want to have with a secretive, powerful, chronically dishonest authoritarian regime that apparently will regularly face viral outbreaks?
On February 10, 2020, I was writing about the supply-chain issues that could impede our access to medicines we import from China. On February 11, I pointed out that the Chinese government had partially locked down Shanghai and Beijing, and it wouldn’t be doing that if this wasn’t a Grade-A public-health emergency. (Nineteen days previous, this wasn’t yet an international emergency. Now it had become a “very grave threat.” I wanted to trust the experts. But I couldn’t help wondering if they’d soft-pedaled any assessment that could irk the Chinese government.) And by February 24, I pointed out, “There’s one other point to make, about the rumor that the coronavirus is the accidental result of Chinese biological-weapons research. Yes, the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory works with dangerous pathogens.”
Apparently, I have a superpower; that superpower is not knowing what questions I’m not supposed to ask, which means I ask them, which means I find different answers than the kinds of experts who are convinced they already know everything.
‘Aren’t You Supposed to Buy Me Dinner First?’
Every once in a while, the symbolism in U.S.-Chinese relations gets a little too heavy-handed:
The Chinese government has promised to stop using anal swabs on American diplomats to test for COVID-19 after Washington complained that the practice was undignified, the U.S. State Department said.
“The State Department never agreed to this kind of testing and protested directly to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when we learned that some staff were subject to it,” a State Department spokesperson told VICE World News on Wednesday.
The spokesperson said Beijing had assured Washington that the test was given “in error” and that diplomatic personnel were exempt from the test, which was mandatory for incoming travelers in some parts of China.
You’re probably thinking of a lot of off-color comments right now. Trust me, I’ve thought of them, too, but this is a relatively family-friendly newsletter.
ADDENDUM: Our David Harsanyi asks Representative Eric Swalwell, “given his concern for blunt representation, why he, and not a young woman of South Asian descent, is representing “one of the largest Indian-American districts in U.S.”?