Editors’ Blog

Hiring: NYC-Based Newswriter at TPM

Calling all political news junkies. Talking Points Memo is hiring an ambitious, New York-based newswriter to cover the epic political stories of our time.

Full posting after the jump.

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Some Thoughts on How We and I Will Cover the COVID-19 Story

TPM is basically a political news and investigations website. We cover a range of topics. We cover the big stories of the day even when they are not inherently political. Where we can we do it with an emphasis on their political and policy dimensions. But political news is the core of what we do.

We are all now in position in which the key big story of the day is the COVID-19 virus outbreak. It is fundamentally a public health story. But in addition to having major economic impacts, the COVID-19 is now impacting almost every question tied to politics, policy and governance.

So I wanted to share a few thoughts about how I and we will cover it.

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On Silencing

From TPM Reader XX

A few thoughts on the silencing:

Fauci has a lot of Congressional access and has for decades. He has many ways to get out a message.

Birx did some of her early research under Fauci. She also worked for Robert Redfield, the Director of CDC when she was at the Army and cleaned up after some problems he had there (look up gp160 including Jon Cohen’s reporting). She is also very politically adept and that’s why she continued in her position in this Administration.

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The White House COVID-19 Task Force

One of the striking patterns in the federal government’s crisis response to the COVID-19 outbreak has been the extent of the disconnect between the federal infectious disease professionals and the White House. Until the President’s press conference it was almost as if they were operating on two separate planets – with the former issuing a frank and increasingly serious set of warnings while the President and his top advisors ranged from happy talk to lashing out at political enemies. That disconnect is not entirely a bad thing. At least the people at the CDC weren’t clearly being muzzled by the White House. The President has the bigger megaphone. But their message was getting out as well.

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Where Things Stand: Trump Makes A Pandemic Political
This is your TPM mid-morning briefing.

And why wouldn’t he?

As stock markets plummet — the Dow Jones has plunged the most since the 2008 recession in recent days — and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticize President Trump’s handling of the spread of the coronavirus, the President is looking for someone to blame for his negative press. Up until this week, Trump had barely mentioned the spreading pandemic and when he did, his tone — as it often is in situations that require delicacy — was deaf.

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Let’s Get Mikey!

Mike Pence victimized by Trump yet again:

The decision to put Mr. Pence in charge was made on Wednesday after the president told some people that the vice president didn’t “have anything else to do,” according to people familiar with the president’s comments.

Silencing Fauci?

I’ve been watching the mix of very worrisome mishandling of the Coronavirus by the White House along with more positive developments from within the federal infectious disease bureaucracy. To be clear, in this case I’m talking mainly about things the President and his White House advisors have said – misinformation, happy talk, etc. I’m not talking about ways they may have concretely messed things up in the field. That is much less clear. On the CDC front, I’m not talking about “good news” in terms of the outbreak but rather signs that actual experts seem to be doing or saying the right things regardless of President Trump’s nonsense.

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Smoking, Gender and Disease

As epidemiologists struggle to understand the biology of the novel Coronavirus, one question has been the role of smoking. There is evidence that the virus hits habitual smokers particularly hard and may play a role in the relative lethality of infection. It sort of stands to reason that this could be the case and there are few studies examining the question and attempting to quantify the potential impact. That is all tentative and I’m certainly not an expert. So I don’t want to dwell on that question. But reading up on this did allow me to learn some statistics about smoking in China that I found genuinely stunning.

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Debates, Old School

From TPM Reader CH

I missed the last two presidential debates because I was part of the League of Women Voters team holding candidate forum in a nearby municipality. At the end of each, audience members came up to observe that these forums were much better than the mudfights that the network opining heads presided over. They preferred the League format and the League rules to the clickbait, max controversy approach of the network stars.

So, what does the League of Women Voters do that’s so popular? Here are a few of the guidelines:

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Where Things Stand: Giuliani’s Suffering A Social Drought
This is your TPM mid-morning briefing.

There are always repercussions when you weld yourself to President Trump’s wagon.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani may not regret becoming the President’s unhinged cable news cheerleader or embarking on a shadow campaign to pressure a foreign government to pursue Trump’s political agenda, which ultimately got his boss impeached. But there’s one consequence of Trump fealty that may have the former New York City mayor down in the dumps: the demise of his social life.

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South Carolina in Sight

Jim Clyburn’s endorsement of Joe Biden is a big deal for South Carolina. Clyburn is the third ranking member of the House leadership and an institution in the state. Endorsements generally don’t make a huge difference. And I doubt this one will make a huge one. But we’re now all down to margins. So it’s important.

Polls generally show Biden on the upswing in the state after trending down for weeks. Biden winning seems likely. But what is the margin?

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Where Things Stand: Republicans Are Sweating Over Swelling Bern
This is your TPM mid-morning briefing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is not one to speak candidly. But while addressing reporters last night, he was uncharacteristically frank: His party would be “foolish” to not take Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) popularity seriously.

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A Few Thoughts on the Debate

That was a pretty messy debate. The moderators managed to tsk-tsk the candidates without actually controlling the time or keeping people on point. Many of the questions were trivial, meant to trip up rather than illuminate or simply gross. Asking the two Jewish candidates about whether to move the US Embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv was a good example of that of gross. Asking Amy Klobuchar whether she’d bar US citizens from returning to the US to prevent the spread of Coronavirus was both dumb and trivial: a question meant to put a candidate on the spot for purely theatrical reasons.

But if it was a messy debate it was still a pivotal one.

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Bloggin’ This Thing

8:48 p.m.: This was a moment …

8:34 p.m.: This is pretty wild. That’s all I’ve got.

8:20 p.m.: Jeez, that one fusillade from Warren on Bloomberg. I’m not sure, in the current dynamics of this race, that any of this will redound to Warren’s benefit. But these attacks on Bloomberg on merciless.

8:07 p.m.: Warren’s line here about why she’d be a better President than Sanders, let me say something about that. I tend to see all of this through the prism of who can beat Trump and who can build the largest political coalition. But when I think about who would likely be the best President in terms of actually using the levers of the presidency, I think Warren would be the best. It’s the mix of her deep grasp of policy and — something that is talked about much less — a deep understanding of the intricacies of how the federal bureaucracy works. Over her dozen years at the highest level of American politics she’s demonstrated that again and again.

8:06 p.m.: Yikes, that Putin line from Bloomberg.

A Reader Exchange

A few days ago I got into a rather intense spat with a longtime reader who became incensed with me after reading this tweet exchange.

Here’s the tweet, which is a reply to a tweet by Bernie Sanders.

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Digging Into The Sanders’ Numbers

Here’s a good article that gets at the real issues with predicting how strong a general election candidate Bernie Sanders would be. It’s different because it gets down into the specifics with real data. Indeed, what is particularly strong about it is that much of what it says people on both sides of the intra-Democratic debate agree on. (We’ll get to that in a moment.)

As I’ve argued, I don’t think you can say Sanders is unelectable or some kind of sure loser when a year’s worth of public polls show him beating President Trump. Current polls show Sanders and Biden both beating Trump by comparable margins. Until recently, they showed Biden doing somewhat better. But compared to all the other candidates they ran relatively similar margins against the incumbent President.

This article gets into the fact that even though the toplines are similar, they’re made up of significantly different coalitions.

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Links for Staying Informed about the Coronavirus

For those of you who are following the news of the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), here are a few links that I find helpful.

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Technocracy, Propriety and Obama

We’ve been overwhelmed by great emails engaging this debate about Obama and the rise of Trumpism, which of course is also a debate about the nature of the Democratic party at its heart. I am trying to make my way through them and choose if not necessarily the best (it’s hard to pick!) then the ones that pivot the conversation in an interesting or helpful direction.

TPM Reader JO makes a separate but good point …

My tuppence worth on this debate.

In assessing the role of the Obama administration in the rise of Trumpism, I certainly would agree that it cannot be attributed to policy failures as such. But neither was it an Act of God that Democrats were helpless to do anything about.

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Loyalty, Disloyalty And Language

Following up on the last post, let me share an email from TPM Reader MR: Read More

Where Things Stand: Trump Hypes Blind Loyalty Overseas
This is your TPM mid-morning briefing.

While overseas in India, President Trump not only confirmed reports of his disloyalty purge, he claimed it was good for the country.

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Where We Are

We woke up this morning to the news that President Trump is calling his purge of supposed disloyalists within the government good for America AND demanding that Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg recuse from any cases involving Trump.

It recalls the brilliant long-running episodic Slate series: “If It Happened There”

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It’s Not About Defending Obama
Barack Obama attends a powhiri at Government House on March 22, 2018 in Auckland, New Zealand. It is the former US president's first visit to New Zealand, where he will be giving a a series of talks. Obama will also meet New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern and former PM John Key during his visit.

There’s one point I want to reiterate or clarify about the posts from earlier today. We’ve gotten a lot of great emails agreeing and disagreeing with my basic points – I’ll be publishing several of them this evening. But some of those who on balance agree with me have asides like, ‘but here’s a case where I think we can criticize Obama.’

Let me be clear: this really isn’t about defending Obama.

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Readers Respond on the Road To Trumpism, Pt. 1

TPM Reader JB on the road to Trumpism …

Interesting exchange of views among you and your readers on this subject. A couple of thoughts, for what they’re worth.

It’s probably useful for us to distinguish between things Obama did as President and events that took place while he was in office. The Great Recession was chief among the latter; it had a massive economic and political impact we are still trying to process over a decade later.

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More on Obamaism and the Rise of Trump

Soon after I published the post below about Obama and Trumpism, I got a note from my friend Josh Green, asking me to reread this 2018 piece and let him know what I thought. Here’s the link. I recommend it. As Josh describes it, it’s basically “the opposite of your headline stating Obama didn’t lead to Trump.”

This is a welcome interchange. Because it allows me to elaborate on, and hopefully refine, my thinking.

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No. Obama’s Failure Didn’t Create Trump

I want to respond to a point TPM Reader MR made below. He makes a few points. But there’s one in particular I want to drill in on because it’s deeply embedded in his argument and is widespread enough to constitute something like a conventional wisdom or even a truism for many. I’d summarize the argument as this: it’s not enough to turn the clock back to 2016 or go back to some pre-Trump ‘good old days’ because ‘that’s what got us Trump’.

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Where Things Stand: Trump’s Shrinking Inner Circle
This is your TPM mid-morning briefing.

Since his Senate acquittal, President Trump has become increasingly paranoid about just how deep the “deep state” goes.

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Readers Respond to the Sanders’ Surge, Pt. 2

TPM Reader CR takes a simple approach ..

I see this election in fairly straightforward terms:

Trump has basically had his average approval rating written in stone at about 43%, and his disapproval rating in the 52-54% range. Since, by virtually every survey, this looks to be a huge turnout election and not a “base” election, those percentages should be more accurate than if it was a base election.

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Readers Respond to the Sanders’ Surge, Pt. 1

TPM Reader MR says it’s not all about the presidential horse race …

I’d like to expand on an important disagreement I have with a portion of your recent Editor’s Blog post “Don’t go overboard with this”. It’s a disagreement that I have with you that spans several of your posts, and I think it’s summed up nicely here.

You wrote, “Given the enormous stakes, you don’t just want someone who has a shot. You want to be sure it’s the candidate with the best shot, to the extent you can ascertain that.“ I disagree with this statement vehemently. I suppose this is the liberal version of the old “Buckley Standard”. It’s something that I felt was cynical when he laid it out, and I find defeatist and shortsighted in this context.

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Don’t Go Overboard With This

While I was away I had a lot of time to reflect and pull together my thoughts on the Democratic primary race. As I’ve stated in the past I think there are major downside risks for the Democrats if they nominate Bernie Sanders. At the same time, I see a lot of pundits and not a few Democrats saying that Sanders is “unelectable”.

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The Methodological Magic of Public Health

Here’s another fascinating, sobering article in the Times tied to the COVID-19 outbreak. We know about the ongoing epidemic in China as well as new and fast-moving outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran. So far there appears to be little if any domestic spread in the United States. This article looks beneath these headlines at the mix of federal authorities doing macro-planning, compiling lists of people returning from China and how they interact with a vast and decentralized array of local public health departments who are actually doing the monitoring.

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