Friday, September 18, 2020

Trump’s Toughest Demographic: Former Trump Administration Officials

 Donald Trump has struggled with minorities and swing-state voters but another demographic seems to be even tougher for him to win over: Former Trump Administration officials. There is a long list of alumni from the Trump White House who have left under a cloud and had bad – even shocking – things to say about Donald Trump. The most recent of these is Olivia Troye.

Olivia Troye was a member of Vice President Pence’s staff for two years. During that time, she worked as an advisor on homeland security, counterterrorism, and the coronavirus pandemic. She served Pence’s lead staffer of the Coronavirus Task Force until leaving the Trump Administration in August. Now she has recorded a devastating ad against Donald Trump for Republican Voters Against Trump.

“Towards the middle of February we knew it wasn’t a matter of if COVID would become a big pandemic here in the United States,” Troye says in the video, “It was a matter of when. But the president didn’t want to hear that because his biggest concern was that we were in an election year and how was this going to affect what he considered his record of success?”

“It was shocking to see the president saying that the virus was a hoax, saying everything was okay when we know that it’s not.” Troye continues. “The truth is that he doesn’t actually care about anyone else but himself.”

Troye cites the example of a Coronavirus Task Force meeting in which the president said, “Maybe this COVID thing is a good thing” because “I don’t like shaking hands with people.” She added that he said that the people wanting to shake his hand were “disgusting.”

Troye’s statement is also confirmed by recordings of the president released by Bob Woodward. Woodward’s tapes reveal a president who said, “I wanted to always play it down” even though he acknowledged “This is deadly stuff” as early as February 7.

Troye’s words might be written off as sour grapes from a disgruntled employee (and undoubtedly will be by Trump’s base) except that her testimony is merely one more installment in a long line of former Trump Administration officials with similar stories and complaints. She joins James MattisJohn BoltonJohn KellyRex Tillerson, and a host of others who have said that Donald Trump lacks the capacity to govern and is bad for the country. At least 11 former generals and admirals have raised the red flag on Trump.

The irony is that many of these people were darlings of the Republican right until they parted ways with Donald Trump. Now each is a persona non grata. Nothing will move a person faster from hero to zero in the Republican Party faster than voicing anything critical of President Trump.

The same goes for Olivia Troye, who was largely unknown outside the Administration. Miles Taylor, a former chief of staff in the Department of Homeland Security, told CNN that Troye was “one of the most hardworking, honest public servants I have ever met in my entire career.” Taylor added that DHS recommended Troye for the vice president’s staff because “her background was immaculate, her service was extraordinary, her qualifications were unmatched” and that Pence had personally said that Troye was doing “an incredible job.” Contrast that description with today’s attacks on Troye as a Deep State Never Trumper.

In fact, some of the former staffers were once avid Trump supporters. Anthony Scaramucci, who served on the 2016 Trump campaign as well as briefly serving as the White House Communications Director, now says he realized that “My loyalty to God and the United States of America was more powerful than my loyalty to one man, a man who has left the country we all love weaker, poorer, and sicker due to his malevolence and incompetence.”

Granted that there are exceptions. Some former Trump officials stand by their man even after being fired. Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions are notable in this category.

The common threads between the critics who served in the Trump Administration are (1) a willingness to serve as advisors to Donald Trump and (2) a realization that Trump is bad for the country after spending time in proximity to the president.

The sheer number of people who come out of the Trump Administration and raise red flags about the president leaves only two possibilities. The first is that Donald Trump is lousy at picking people who are loyal and tends to hire people who are unprincipled enough to seek revenge by making up outlandish stories. The second is that the testimonials are true and that Mr. Trump’s behavior is so egregious and dangerous that he represents a national security threat. The evidence points to the second possibility.

As Miles Taylor pointed out, the warnings from former Administration officials are like police body camera footage that shows voters what is happening inside the Trump Administration. It is up to voters to heed those warnings for the good of both the country and the Republican Party, which is in serious need of a course correction.

“It was the opportunity and honor of a lifetime to be able to serve in the White House,” Olivia Troye says in her video message. “I put my heart and soul into this role every single day. But at some point, I would come home at night, I would look myself in the mirror, and say, ‘Are you really making a difference? Does it matter because no matter how hard you work and what you do the president is going to do something that is detrimental to keeping Americans safe, which is why you signed up for this role? It was awful. It was terrifying.”

“I have been a Republican my entire life,” Troye says. “I am a McCain Republican, I am a Bush Republican, and I am voting for Joe Biden because I truly believe we are in a time of constitutional crisis. At this point, it’s country over party.”

That is the definition of patriotism.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Here’s How The Swing States Look After The Conventions

 The Republican and Democratic conventions are in the rearview mirror as we blow past the two-month mark until the election. Mail voting is already underway in North Carolina and early voting will soon begin in other states as well. It’s crunch-time for the campaigns and there is little time left to shift the polls. The big question now is what the state of the race looks like now that there have been a bevy of post-convention polls as well as polls that take into account the civil unrest and revelations about President Trump’s disparaging comments about the military.

Let’s take a look at the battleground states with an overview of recent polling. As I’ve pointed out many times in the past, any single poll does not show the true picture of the race so we will also look at the FiveThirtyEight average of polls for each state and compare today’s average to August 1 to see how the state might have shifted due to the news of the past month.

Arizona is the first of 11 battleground states. Joe Biden leads there by an average of 4.7 points compared to 3.9 points on August 1.

In Colorado, Joe Biden leads by average of 12.1 points compared to 13.2 points on August 1.

Florida is a more interesting case. The race has narrowed here somewhat in recent weeks and Biden now holds a 1.8-point lead as opposed to his 5.9-point lead from August 1.

In Georgia, Donald Trump leads by a bare 1.5-point margin. This is almost unchanged from his 1.3-point lead on August 1.

Joe Biden leads by 7.5 points in Michigan, which is very close to his 8.0-point lead on August 1.

In Minnesota, scene of the George Floyd killing by police, Biden leads by an average of 6.2 points. On August 1, Biden held a 7.6-point lead.

North Carolina is another squeaker. Joe Biden leads by 1.8 points there, which is almost identical to his 1.9-point lead on August 1.

Ohio is also too close to call. Trump leads there by 0.9 points compared with a 0.5-point lead on August 1.

Joe Biden has a comfortable lead in Pennsylvania. The Democrat leads there by 5.1 points on average, compared with 6.6 points in early August.

Donald Trump holds a slim lead in Texas, the only states where polling has flipped over the past month. Trump currently leads by an average of 0.8 points. On August 1, Biden led by an average of 0.5 points.

In Wisconsin, Biden has opened up a comfortable lead. The Democrat currently holds a 7.5-point advantage compared with 7.0 points on August 1.

The most notable thing about the post-convention polling is how stable the battleground states are. Only in Florida has the polling average changed by more than two points, which puts most fluctuations well within the margin of error.

In 2016, close races in the swing states enabled Donald Trump’s unexpected Electoral College fluke. In the last cycle, state polling showed the battleground states to be mostly in or near the margins of error for the polls. At this point, that is not the case in 2020.

While the trend in Florida is a bright spot for the Trump campaign, the problem is that Joe Biden has other paths to victory in the Electoral College that do not run through the Sunshine State. If we start with the 2016 electoral map, we see that Biden only needs to flip Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, three states where he has comfortable leads, to win the election by 279-259 electoral votes.

A more likely scenario based on current polling is that Biden takes far more than those three states. Donald Trump will also certainly win Georgia and Texas while Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio remain too close to call. If those states go for Trump, but Biden wins Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, the Electoral College tally would be 289-249 in favor of Biden. This might represent a good night for Donald Trump.

The worst-case scenario for Republicans would be that all three of the too-close-call battleground states break for Biden. The resulting 351-187 Electoral College score would represent a landslide victory for Biden. The last time that a candidate exceeded 350 electoral votes was in 2008 when Barack Obama defeated John McCain 365-173.

Polls are snapshots and not predictive but based on current polling, if the election was held today, Joe Biden would become the next president of the United States. FiveThirtyEight also has a model that forecasts the winner of the election based on current trends. Currently, that model gives Joe Biden a 74 percent chance of winning.

As I discussed last week, polling shows that Donald Trump’s message on crime and the pandemic is falling flat. Even much trust on the economy, once President Trump’s strong point, is being ceded to Joe Biden. At the same time, the president is on the defense due to leaks about his criticisms of the military.

If he hopes to win the election, the president needs to find a message that resonates beyond his base and can bring moderate and independent voters into his camp. He has precious little time to do so.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Donald Trump Defends The COVID Vaccine… Finally

 President Trump has come out swinging after Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris expressed doubt about a potential Coronavirus vaccine last week. The president charged that Harris and Democratic nominee Joe Biden were engaging in “reckless anti-vaccine rhetoric” and “endangering lives.” To some extent, he has a point but that’s not the full story.

The kerfuffle began last week when CNN released a clip of Harris saying, “I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about. I will not take his word for it.”

Or did it?

Maybe it started last month when President Trump announced a push to approve a vaccine before Election Day or earlier last week when the CDC advised states to be ready to begin distribution of a vaccine by November 1.

Or did it?

Maybe the vaccine brouhaha began way back in the spring when right-wing conspiracy theorists started claiming that Bill Gates was planning to use a COVID vaccine as a Trojan horse for either mind control or population control (or both) depending on which version of the conspiracy they embraced. Like the underwear gnomes from South Park, the plan by Gates and/or the Illuminati/New World Order/whatever was generally explained like this:

Step One – Vaccine and/or mask mandates
Step Two – ???????????
Step Three – Fascism… Or communism… Or both.

I do applaud the president for defending the upcoming vaccine. His statement that a vaccine would be “very safe and very effective” was much needed. If there was any problem with this part of the statement, it was that it was five months in coming.

“The people will be happy, the people of the world will be happy,” the president added.

If you doubt the anti-vaccine hysteria surrounding a Coronavirus vaccine, you need only look to an August Gallup poll which found that 35 percent of Americans would not get an FDA-approved COVID vaccine, even if it was offered at no cost. The kicker is that Republicans were the only group in which a majority opposed the vaccine (53-47 percent).

But, while Kamala Harris’s words did not help the matter, it is the president’s own rush to approve a vaccine that has led at least some of the non-conspiracy crowd to doubt the safety and the efficacy of vaccine that bypasses the normal trials and approvals process.

Problems that come from bypassing safeguards, not mind-control chips, are the real danger of a vaccine. In 1976, the federal government rushed a swine flu vaccine in response to an expected epidemic. Smithsonian magazine notes politics became prevalent and science took a backseat. In the end, the vaccine was linked to increased risk for a rare neurological disorder, and the fiasco contributed to skepticism about vaccines that lasts to this day.

Even more recently, last spring Coronavirus test kits were in short supply because of a problem in the manufacturing process. The Washington Post reported that the problems were due to contamination at a CDC lab that “violated sound manufacturing practices.”

Cutting corners can cost lives. This is true both in the direct sense that an untested vaccine could be dangerous and indirectly due to time lost in fixing problems that would have been revealed earlier by following established procedures. As my dad has been known to say, “You can make time to do it right or make time to do it over.”

To his credit, Joe Biden stepped up to quell vaccine fears. Fox News quoted Biden as saying, “If I could get a vaccine tomorrow I’d do it. If it cost me the election I’d do it. We need a vaccine and we need it now.”

“I would want to see what the scientists said,” Biden qualified.

But Biden had some sharp words for Trump as well, charging that the president was “playing with politics. He said so many things that aren’t true.”

“If we do have a really good vaccine people are going to be reluctant to take it,” Biden added, which is a true statement supported by the poll cited earlier.

So what to do? The obvious answer is to avoid politicizing the vaccine. President Trump should stand back and let the scientists and medical experts handle the matter. In the past, the FDA has said that it will not “cut corners” in vaccine trials, and Moncef Slaoui, the scientist heading the “Operation Warp Speed” vaccine effort said last week that a vaccine by November was “possible but very unlikely,” per the Washington Post.

It is when the president’s statements conflict with those of the scientists that it sets off alarm bells in many people’s heads. In medical matters, we should be listening to the medical experts and not the guy who suggested injecting disinfectants. If the president wants to undercut a vaccine panic among Democrats and non-Republicans, it is as simple as saying that no vaccine will be approved or deployed before the doctors say that it is ready. Mr. Trump should paraphrase the old wine commercial with the consistent message, “I will serve no vaccine before its time.”

In the meantime, if the president wants to help the fight against the pandemic, he can start talking more to his base about the need for masks, social distancing, and a vaccine. In the end, it is the president’s own supporters who are more likely to “just say no” to a COVID vaccine than Biden backers. Straight talk about the need for mitigations from a president loved for his “truth-telling” might go a long way with the right-wing conspiracy crowd.

Or it might not. The president took months to call on his supporters to wear a mask (and to wear one publicly himself). In truth, the president’s message has been inconsistent. In July, the president called wearing a mask “patriotic” but no masks were in sight at the August Republican National Convention, even though attendees were not socially distanced.

From my conversations with Trump supporters over the past few months, it doesn’t seem as if the president’s call for masks made much of an impression on his supporters. Republicans seem just as anti-mask after the president made his pitch as they were before with many wearing masks (often incorrectly) only when they are required.

The same may be true of the vaccine. The anti-vaxxer conspiracies may now be so ingrained into so many Republicans that even President Trump cannot reverse it at this point. (It should be noted that the president made anti-vaccine comments back in 2016.)

To test this theory, I asked several friends in a Facebook group whether the president’s defense of the vaccine. Of the people who responded at press time, none said that the president’s statement changed their mind about vaccines.

“I am not a fan of vaccines in the contemporary era,” Russ said. “Proven old-school vaccines we grew up with were time tested, but the modern vaccine feels rushed, pushed (as in media advertising) and generally come off as ‘sales pitchy.'”

“If big pharma had not grown into a ‘mega-plex’ industry I might feel differently,” he added. “If science had not become ‘doctrine’ and ‘dogma’ on most matters, I would feel differently. Industrial growth is bad for overall trust.”

“I’m not a fan of the president, nor will I be getting the vaccine,” Tracy stated.

“I support effective vaccines for illnesses that are necessary to be vaccinated against,” said Janice. “My jury is still out on COVID.”

Janice’s opinion is where a lot of people are. They aren’t necessarily against vaccines in general, but they do want to ensure that a Coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective before they take it. That underscores the need for President Trump and his medical experts to be on the same page with respect to the fact that the vaccine will not be given until it is fully tested and approved.

My plea to both President Trump and the Democrats is this: Don’t make this political. Let the scientists follow established guidelines and do their jobs.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, September 7, 2020

IHME Predicts 410,000 COVID Deaths By January

 Apopular theory that I often hear from friends is that the Coronavirus pandemic will disappear after Election Day. Not so, says the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which has been the premier forecaster for the pandemic in the US. A new model by the IHME shows that, rather than spontaneously disappearing, “The worst is yet to come.”

The Coronavirus caseload in the US seems to have plateaued once again, even though death rates remain high with a seven-day average of almost 1,000 deaths per day. As in the spring, the tendency for many is to assume that the worst is over and return to normal, but a number of factors are likely to result in a resurgence of the disease this fall and winter.

“The worst is yet to come. I don’t think perhaps that’s a surprise, although I think there’s a natural tendency as we’re a little bit in the Northern hemisphere summer, to think maybe the epidemic is going away,” Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME, said in a conference call reported by CNBC on Friday.

He added that there are “bleak times ahead in the Northern Hemisphere winter, and unfortunately we are not collectively doing everything we can to learn from the last five months.”

Disease prediction models draw a lot of criticism and scorn at the beginning of the pandemic last spring, but as scientists have learned more about COVID-19 the models have become more accurate. Back in May, I described a “model of models” which forecasted 110,000 virus deaths by June 6. This undercounted the actual number since the total on June 6 was 114,625 deaths. Likewise, in June the IHME predicted that there would be 200,000 Coronavirus deaths by October. With almost 1,000 deaths per day and three weeks to go, it looks as though that forecast will have been on the low side as well since the US has already recorded 193,302 deaths as of Labor Day.

The IHME released three different projections that show possible outcomes under different scenarios. The best-case scenario, which assumes universal masking and strict observation of social distancing, estimates that 288,380 Americans will die of COVID-19 by the end of the year. The worst-case scenario, based on the removal of social distancing restrictions and mask mandates, is a death toll of 620,028. The most likely scenario is in the middle with a death toll of 410,450.

The new forecast estimates an increase in the daily death rate “because of seasonality and declining vigilance of the public, to reach nearly 3,000 a day in December.” Currently, there are about 850 deaths per day in the US. The US previously approached 3,000 daily deaths in the dark days of April.  

“We are facing the prospect of a deadly December, especially in Europe, Central Asia, and the United States,” Dr. Murray said. “But the science is clear and the evidence irrefutable: mask-wearing, social distancing, and limits to social gatherings are vital to helping prevent transmission of the virus.”

The global death toll, which currently stands at 881,000 people, is estimated to be 2.8 million by January 1. The best and worst-case scenarios range between two and four million.

The IHME model is based upon several assumptions. Among these are that people will become more willing to interact as new cases decline and that cooler weather will encourage people to stay indoors where the virus can spread more easily. Further, the cool, dry air of fall will allow the virus to live longer.

Even though COVID-19 transmission in the US has fallen since June, there are still about 40,000 new cases every day. This elevated but stable level could provide a springboard for yet another wave of infections if people let down their guard and forego mitigation strategies, just as the relaxation of social distancing in June led to a surge of cases in July.

“One of the challenges is as soon as things look good in the community, it’s tempting to say the virus is gone,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin, in the Washington Post. “What we really should be thinking is: How did we get to this better place? By being cautious and vigilant. And instead of relaxing, we should focus on the things that worked.”

The IHME model is one of the few long long-range forecasting tools. Many models only predict four to six weeks into the future. Some critics say that the number of variables considered over a long period of time makes long-term forecasting unreliable.

“Beyond [a few weeks], it’s all conjecture and guesswork because there are so many factors we just can’t predict and factors about transmission that truthfully scientists don’t understand very well yet,” Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious-disease expert and head of the modeling team at Columbia University, told the Post. “What happens in the next few months really depends on what we do as a society the next few weeks.”

One of the biggest variables is the impact of social distancing. In the Southern Hemisphere, where winter began in June, the annual influx of flu patients has not come this year for many countries per the Wall Street Journal. In many parts of the world, strict lockdowns not only seem to be preventing a surge of COVID-19 cases but also annual flu epidemics. With much of the US open, the winter in America might well bring a different result.

The most recent CDC forecast, which uses an “ensemble” of models, predicts that national death rates will decrease slightly but agrees with the IHME estimate of 200,000 to 211,000 US deaths by September 26. The CDC model, updated on September 3, does not look beyond four weeks into the future.

The IHME’s Dr. Murray defended the long-range forecast, saying that the best and worst case scenarios were tools intended to assist policymakers and help governments to avoid the worst-case scenario. He added that a second wave is likely to happen regardless of the exact timing and that decisions made now would affect the death toll in coming months.

Most experts seem to agree on that point.

As we’ve pointed out before, models are not ironclad predictions for the future. Instead, they are estimates based on assumptions about what will happen and how people will behave. As such, they are a cautionary tale for the future but changing behavior can change the outcome.

I would bookmark the IHME projection to refer back to around New Year’s Day in order to validate whether the forecast was accurate or not. In the meantime, the core lesson is that the crisis is not over. It is important that pandemic-weary Americans maintain mitigation strategies for at least another few months until a vaccine is ready. The difference between social distancing and wearing a mask and flouting these guidelines is likely to be tens of thousands of American lives.

Originally published on The Resurgent