The Morning Jolt

Elections

Georgia on My Mind

Voters cast their ballots in the Senate run-off election at a polling station in Marietta, Ga., January 5, 2021. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

On the menu today: Georgia votes, with a big chunk of the president’s legacy on the line; Lou Dobbs contemplates an inexplicable mystery; and a really big problem may be lurking on the horizon . . . in the direction of South Africa.

Today, Georgia Decides Which Party Controls the Senate

Georgia votes in its Senate runoff elections today; more than 3 million Georgians have already voted. If Republicans win one seat, Mitch McConnell remains Senate majority leader and the most radical proposals of the Biden administration and the Democrats are stopped before they even start.

If Democrats win both seats, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will soon be breaking the ties, Chuck Schumer will run the Senate, and Democrats will have narrow control over both chambers. West Virginia’s Joe Manchin more or less will decide what gets passed. The filibuster probably won’t be toast, but it won’t be 100 percent guaranteed to stick around, either. The Senate can try to cram anything related to the budget or taxes into a reconciliation bill, anyway.

This improves the odds for passage of some version of the Green New Deal, taxpayer funding for late-term abortions, and shifting away from school choice and charter schools. Watch for an end to fracking on public lands, and perhaps a more sweeping set of restrictions, if not an outright nationwide ban. This increases the odds of tougher gun restrictions and looser immigration restrictions. For at least the next two years, less-liberal Democratic senators such as Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and Jon Tester will come under enormous pressure from their colleagues, liberal-interest groups, and some corners of the Biden administration.

To the extent we still trust polling — which shouldn’t be much after November — the polling doesn’t look great — small leads for Ossoff and Warnock. But we knew this was likely to be close. For two months, both parties and all of their allied groups and every interest group have poured in all the money and volunteers they could find.

Whether the president realizes it or not, a big chunk of his legacy is on the line in Georgia today. Everything Trump did through executive order can be repealed by executive order. With the stroke of a pen, President Biden will put the U.S. back into the Paris climate-change accords, reverse President Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization, repeal the so-called Muslim travel ban, and reinstate the Dreamers. The only changes from the Trump presidency that will remain are the ones passed legislatively — and if the Democrats control Congress, a lot of that can be undone, too.

Unfortunately, President Trump has spent every day since Election Day obsessing over a nonsensical conspiracy theory that he won in a landslide and a combination of vote fraud and hacked voting machines stole the election from him. Trump urged Georgia to “call off the election,” asserted that he won Georgia by “half a million” votes, and asked his advisers about retired general Michael Flynn’s idea of declaring martial law and having the military rerun the election. At his rally last night, Trump spent time denouncing Georgia’s governor and secretary of state.

You want to go out tomorrow,” the president said last night. “People want to go out; they don’t want to do the ballot thing, that — they don’t want to do it, unless it’s the other side, in which case, they just print them out. They don’t want to do it. They want to go and vote. And make sure your vote is counted. Make sure they don’t let you say, ‘I’m sorry. Somebody else has already voted for you.’”

Even worse, Trump has conditioned a lot of people who self-identify as Republicans to more or less believe any conspiracy theory they hear. Lin Wood and Sidney Powell held a rally in Georgia in early December and attracted a large crowd, calling upon Republicans to not vote in the runoff, to make their voices heard by staying home. If two lawyers can come out of nowhere with a farfetched conspiracy theory and persuade thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of self-identified Republican-leaning voters to not make their voices heard at the ballot box, then the GOP — despite all of its gains in the state legislatures and U.S. House and Senate this year — is no longer a functioning force in American politics. Too many members of the party’s grassroots will be too gullible to be a reliable base of support and willing to act in a way that fulfills the Democratic Party’s wildest fantasies.

At any point, President Trump could have denounced Lin Wood and Sidney Powell — not merely urging people to vote for the GOP senators, but explicitly saying the Wood and Powell arguments urging voters to stay home are harmful to the interests of his supporters. Lin Wood contends Vice President Mike Pence is part of a conspiracy working against the president (along with Mitch McConnell and Chief Justice John Roberts), and called for Vice President Pence to be arrested and executed. Trump isn’t exactly shy about criticizing people. We’ve seen this president go on furious Twitter tirades about Lincoln Project ads and television personalities.

And yet, President Trump has never quite been able to bring himself to say anything critical of Wood or Powell.

Indeed, Lou, If This Is So Obvious, Why Is It So Hard to Prove?

An inadvertently hilariously truthful moment from Fox Business Channel host Lou Dobbs, Monday night:

We’re eight weeks from the election, and we still don’t have verifiable, tangible support for the crimes that everyone knows were committed — that is, defrauding other citizens who voted with fraudulent votes. We know that’s the case in Nevada, we know it’s the case in Pennsylvania and a number of other states, but we have had a devil of a time finding actual proof. Why?

He’s almost got it!

A Much Bigger Deal to Worry about, down in South Africa

Get ready to hear the words “South African variant” a lot.*

Most mutations of viruses don’t change much that matters from the perspective of human beings. They usually don’t make the virus any different for the purposes of an immune system trying to fight the viruses. In recent days, U.S. health authorities have focused on “the United Kingdom strain” or variant B117 that is more easily transmitted, but thankfully not more virulent.

That said, an easier-transmitted virus is still a major problem, because the major threat from this virus is when it reaches people who are most vulnerable — primarily the elderly, the immunocompromised, and those with comorbidities. Faster, wider spread gives the virus more opportunities to reach those whom we’ve tried to protect with what is now approaching ten months of isolation or minimized human contact.

But B117 might not be the big headache for the coming year. No, the real fear is that the “South African variant” represents a significant enough mutation that the current vaccines wouldn’t work against it:

Scientists in South Africa say there is a “reasonable concern” that the new variant of Covid-19 sweeping across the country might prove to be more resistant to current vaccines currently administered around the world, warning that this makes the need for a global roll-out of vaccines “even more critical.”

“It’s a theoretical concern. A reasonable concern . . . that the South African variant might be more resistant,” Prof Shabir Madhi, who has led trials for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in South Africa, told the BBC.

Prof. Madhi was responding to comments by the UK government and scientists who said they are “incredibly worried” about the South African variant of the coronavirus that could evade vaccines.

Prof. Madhi said a definitive answer would probably come in a matter of weeks, with extensive testing already under way in South Africa.

The concern arises from the fact that the virus here has mutated far more than the variant in the UK, and one of those mutations might mean it can evade attack by antibodies that would normally fight coronavirus.

Prof. Madhi said it was “unlikely” that the mutation in South Africa would make the current vaccines useless, but might “weaken the impact.”

A vaccine expert at Wits University, Prof Helen Rees, said: “Fortunately, should further modifications of the vaccine be required to address the new variants, some of the vaccine technologies under development could allow this to be done relatively rapidly.”

Right now, according to Worldometers, there are about 23 million active COVID-19 cases around the world — and there are undoubtedly many more undetected cases. In each of those human bodies, the virus is growing, multiplying, and fighting with antibodies. Thankfully, in most cases, the antibodies will win, and the person will recover. But the virus keeps changing. As noted above, most mutations will be insignificant. But the longer humanity is fighting this virus, the more time the virus will have to mutate in a way that makes it tougher to fight.

The South African variant might not be so bad. GISAID is a global science initiative that provides open-access to genomic data of influenza viruses and the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. Their initial assessment doesn’t make it sound quite so menacing:

It has been reported, based on high-throughput experiments, that all three spike receptor binding site mutations (K417N, E484K and N501Y) were shown to mildly increase receptor binding. Because receptor binding interfaces are also common epitopes, receptor binding interface mutations could also affect binding of some antibodies to the virus and, in rare cases, have the potential to affect vaccine response. A triple mutant at the interface has not been observed yet in larger outbreaks and should be investigated in detail. Experimental data would be welcome to clarify the impact of the mutations.

That “rare cases” sure sounds reassuring.

*Yes, many people in the medical, media, and political worlds are big fat hypocrites for freaking out about the phrase “Wuhan flu” and turning the use of that phrase into a de facto hate crime, but not objecting to terms such as the “South African variant” or “London strain.” But incoherent standards and ludicrous hypocrisy among the elites isn’t exactly surprising, and we’ve got bigger things to worry about right now . . . like a new vaccine-resistant version of SARS-CoV-2.

ADDENDUM: In case you missed it yesterday, Raphael Warnock has had a consistent problem of paying his fees and taxes to Fulton County. Few voters will care, but I find failure to pay taxes in a timely manner particularly infuriating when it comes from someone who wants to raise my taxes. Particularly if that person is making $275,000 per year as a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, in addition to making $55,000 in speaking fees, including $5,000 from the private-equity investment firm Grain Capital.

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