Editors’ Blog

Where Things Stand: Different Standards Are McConnell’s Favorite Cop-Out Prime Badge
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The Senate majority leader’s hazy statements distancing himself from the administration’s missteps are a staple of his leadership in the Trump era.

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Not Even Close

My take on this debate is basically the same as my mid-debate take. I wouldn’t say Harris wowed. There weren’t a lot of zingers. But she hit every last point the campaign could have asked for. Just methodically. Killing the ACA, Charlottesville, the horrific failure of the COVID response. She didn’t really care about Mike Pence. She was there to make a case against Donald Trump. And she did.

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So Far

As a news guy I like boffo clips. There aren’t many boffo clips so far out of this debate. But Harris is hitting basically every mark she needs to make. Every single one. Pence is mostly going through the motions. He’s doing fine. But he needs to do a lot more than fine.

COVID Thunderdome Debating

Okay, let’s do this.

Where Things Stand: A Real Debate This Time? Prime Badge

There’s already been some spicy commentary from both the Pence and Harris teams about respect for COVID-19 rules in tonight’s debate. And some weak plexiglass concession from the vice president’s side.

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Of Self-Sucker Punches and Bust Outs Prime Badge

As I mentioned last night, I think there’s a decent chance Mitch McConnell suckered President Trump into canceling stimulus bill negotiations. The GOP looks to be shifting into bust out mode. McConnell and other party leaders likely see that Trump is finished and that the Senate majority probably is too. The cynical play is straightforward: pocket the Court seat and leave an incoming Biden administration in as deep a hole as possible. It even cues Republicans up to switch seamlessly back into austerity/fiscal scold mode in 2021, without their fingerprints on any more stimulus spending. Little discussed here is Trump’s assertion that leaving stimulus negotiations until after the election will clear the calendar to focus on confirming Amy Coney Barrett. Of course it will. That seems to be the point.

Normally it would be reasonable to ask whether anyone really thinks that cynically about governance. With Mitch McConnell not only do we know he thinks that cynically he actually acted this cynically under Barack Obama. We have a track record.

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Where Things Stand: Trump’s Grand Recovery Complete With A Grand National Address Prime Badge
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We’re hearing reports that President Trump plans to address the nation at some point today — just hours after being released from the nation’s top military hospital after being treated for COVID-19.

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Rage Against the Dying of the Light Prime Badge

President Trump seems to be knocking off iconic (and not in a good way) moments in rapid succession now: the Lafayette Park church stunt in June, the slow speed base runabout in his armored SUV two days ago, and then last night’s Triumph of the Will manque set piece with Trump, bathed in light but also clearly struggling to breathe, triumphantly reentering the White House and confidently tossing off his mask. While the June incident long predated Trump’s personal health crisis, each moment shares a common theme: Trumpian efforts to demonstrate strength and dominance which fail because they claim too much, because Trump is in fact weak. And it shows.

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Prediction: Trump Wasn’t Getting Tested Prime Badge

Listening to all the little clues and nuggets of evidence and the adamant refusal to disclose the date of the President’s last negative COVID test, I think the piece of kryptonite at the center of this clown show is this: the President went into Tuesday night’s debate without getting tested. Perhaps he hadn’t been tested in some time. Many of the gaps and disconnects point toward a scenario in which the White House was relying mostly on testing those who came in contact with the President as a proxy for testing the President himself. Obviously tests and incubation periods are far too fallible for that to make any sense. But I’m pretty sure that at least to some extent that’s what they were doing. Just how much is pretty key right now.

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Where Things Stand: The Most Defensive Statement Yet Prime Badge
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White House press secretary Kaleigh McEnany announced via Twitter this morning that she has tested positive for COVID-19. But the statement is exceptionally defensive — likely because she spoke to reporters just yesterday without wearing a mask.

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Biden’s Second Test

Yesterday the Biden campaign announced that Joe Biden had taken a second COVID test and gotten a negative result. (Technically this was apparently his third in response to the President’s diagnosis. But the first two were simultaneous – a double check as it were rather than a follow up.)

This is a big deal and very encouraging.

Biden’s first test in response to Trump’s diagnosis came only two days after his potential exposure at the Tuesday night debate. But 48 or 50 hours just isn’t long enough to tell you much. A negative test after 5 days puts the probabilities much more firmly only Biden’s side, though we’ll need a week more to really be certain that he wasn’t infected. Current science holds that on average people develop COVID symptoms just over five days post-infection and tests can find COVID in pre-symptomatic people 1 to 3 days prior to the onset of symptoms. So he and we are not out of the woods but probabilities are much more firmly on his side.

Was the President the Superspreader? Prime Badge

A variety of circumstantial evidence now raises the real possibility that the President was himself the super-spreader at the center of the White House COVID cluster. To know with any confidence we will need a thoroughgoing contact tracing investigation. It’s quite possible the vector is a little-known White House aide who mingled through the crowd last Saturday in the Rose Garden. For the moment we only have information about the high profile infectees.

But two bits of circumstantial evidence stand out. Read More

That’s the Question Prime Badge

I think TPM Reader DC has this right. The real question isn’t when Trump tested positive. It’s the last time he had a negative test result. That seems likely to be the issue with the muddled timeline …

The most important question for timeline is when the last negative test was, and exactly when and what testing platform were positive results obtained.

I am supposing he tested negative Wednesday AM using the daily Abbott rapid test. 50% false negative rate.

In retrospect reports that he was dragging Wednesday Night might explain why Conley indicated he had been sick for 72 hours.

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Like a Novel and Not a Good One Prime Badge

It’s like a novel and not a terribly good one. It now seems quite probable, if not certain, that the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18th triggered a chain of events that led directly to the President’s diagnosis and subsequent hospitalization for COVID-19. As you may have heard, a growing body of circumstantial evidences points strongly to the conclusion that the announcement event for Amy Coney Barrett as the President’s nominee to replace Ginsburg was the spreader event that has led to the current outbreak at the White House and in the upper echelons of the GOP.

To date, Trump, Melania Trump, Sens. Lee and Tillis, the President of Notre Dame University, Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager Bill Stepien, Hope Hicks have all tested positive in the last 48 hours. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel and Sen. Ron Johnson have also tested positive, though their connection to the Rose Garden event is less direct or at least unclear.

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Where Things Stand: Come For The Trump COVID News, Stay For The Congressional Probe Prime Badge
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NYTIMPEACH Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) questions Gordon Sondland, US Ambassador to the European Union, during a House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on November 20, 2019. (Pool Photo by Samuel Corum for The New York Times)

This is one of a handful of times in TPM’s history that our reporting sparked a congressional probe.

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Bidens Test Negative

The Biden campaign has announced that Joe and Jill Biden both did PCR COVID tests today and both tests came back negative.

It Looks Like a Cover Up Prime Badge

The timeline of events leading up to the disclosure of President Trump’s diagnosis point overwhelmingly to some mix of a coverup and gross negligence and likely both.

Let’s review some key facts, as far as we presently know them.

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Big Exclusive from our TPM Team

The House Oversight Committee has just launched an investigation into the deployment of COVID-19 tests to nursing homes. The investigation was launched in response to a TPM report from August.

Emergency Pod

Just recorded a quick crisis edition of the podcast. Keep an eye on whatever podcast app you use.

Processing the News and the Spread Prime Badge

Under any circumstances, the President contracting a potentially fatal disease – and one that moves quickly – constitutes a grave national security crisis. We cannot and should not shy away from the fact that the President’s affliction – and likely those of others around him – is a direct result of his own reckless behavior. Overnight reports suggest his top aides seldom wear masks in his presence “in deference to the president’s disdain for them.” At Tuesday night’s debate his family and entourage pointedly refused to wear masks, even refusing a Cleveland Clinic doctor’s appeals to do so, which the debate rules mandated. Given these facts it is all but certain that a significant number of other top officials at the White House also have COVID.

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How Sick Is The President?

All of our ongoing coverage of Trump’s deeply ironic positive test here. Ironic, but still a legitimate crisis.

Trump Tests Positive

You’ve probably already seen the news. The President and the First Lady have both tested positive for COVID, according to a tweet a short time ago from the President. Presumably they were infected by Hope Hicks, though I don’t think we can rule out some other chain of transmission, like Hicks and Trump both being infected by some as yet unknown person.

I don’t want to be alarmist. But the President spent almost two hours in relative proximity to Joe Biden only 48 hours ago.

Trump, Hicks and Melania Trump are almost certainly not the only three people at the White House with COVID.

This is a grave situation, coming in the midst of what was already a developing national crisis.

Serious Situation

Hope Hicks, one of President Trump’s top aides, has tested positive for COVID. She traveled with him on Air Force One to Tuesday’s debate. She was apparently also traveling with the President yesterday when he held a rally in Minnesota.

Where Things Stand: Check Out Melania’s Latest Side Project Prime Badge

If you watched the debate on Tuesday or have paid attention to the Trump family’s public appearances in the last 48 hours, you don’t need me to point out the irony here.

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If Winning is Your Ideology, Being a Loser is Fatal

A friend asked me to read and give my reaction to this debate reaction piece by Tim Alberta in Politico. Of late I haven’t been on the same page on many things Alberta has written. There are various assumptions and claims in this one I don’t agree with. But on the big point I think Alberta really nails a key element of what happened Tuesday night. I mentioned yesterday that there’s a certain roguish fun and entertainment Trump can bring which we shortchange ourselves not to understand and credit no matter how much we might loathe him or despise what he represents.

This was one of Trump’s campaign superpowers in 2016. Whatever else you could say it was really, really clear that Trump was enjoying himself. And why wouldn’t he be? He was breaking the rules and getting away with it. On his maiden political campaign he was felling the men who were supposed to be the futures of the Republican Party one after another. He was being himself and it was working. He would provoke, crack a joke, offend and while his competitors were prepping tut-tutting press releases he was on Fox or on Twitter moving on to his next stunt.

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This Should Focus The Mind

I missed this post-debate assessment yesterday from David Sanger of the New York Times:

But what worried American intelligence and homeland security officials, who have been assuring the public for months now that an accurate, secure vote could happen, was that Mr. Trump’s rant about a fraudulent vote may have been intended for more than just a domestic audience.

They have been worried for some time that his warnings are a signal to outside powers — chiefly the Russians — for their disinformation campaigns, which have seized on his baseless theme that the mail-in ballots are ridden with fraud. But what concerns them the most is that over the next 34 days, the country may begin to see disruptive cyberoperations, especially ransomware, intended to create just enough chaos to prove the president’s point.


Rage, narcissism, self-loathing, fear – each vividly on display. We got a clear view last night of something very basic about this moment. The country isn’t so much facing an election as a hostage negotiation. Trump is losing, probably not just the presidency but just as critically his immunity from the law. Does he come out peacefully? Or is he one of those degenerates who kills his wife and kids on the way out?

If he’s going to lose he wants to burn the country down.

As my vivid and ugly analogy suggests, this isn’t strategy. It’s instinct. It’s rage.

Where Things Stand: Does Tim Scott Get Tired? Prime Badge
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He’s been one of the most confusing senators to me for some time.

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The Morning After

Having had a night to sleep on it – and sleep very soundly – I’m much closer to what I said was the downside possibility for the President: not just a missed opportunity but a self-immolation. This was truly the worst of Trump: racist, belligerent, angry, unstable. I’ll give the man his due. Trump can be if not funny then jocular, entertaining in a predatory, roguish way. Last night had none of that. It was pure id and an id under threat.

Beyond all the individual offenses one of the underrated sub-themes of anti-Trumpism is exhaustion. One of the deepest traumas of living in the home of an abuser stems not from the outbursts of physical violence, verbal abuse or manipulation but the accumulated stress of ambient tension, uncertainty, the reflexive, unshakeable hyper-vigilance. It is exhausting in a profound way. Trump is exhausting – I suspect even for some who share his dark values. This was 90 minutes jam-packed with everything that makes Trump exhausting. Living with an abuser means being trapped in close quarters with the abuse, being unable to run. In a month voters get the chance to walk away.

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