A Note From Wisconsin

Countdown Journal: 29 days To Go

At first, the spreading White House infections felt like karma. Now it feels more like Nemesis, the goddess who punishes acts of hubris.

By Alfred Rethel - 1. The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202. 2. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=158201

Welcome to the Countdown Journal. There are 29 days until Election Day, and then 78 days until the Inauguration.

At the risk of offending the right’s new Civility Police, let’s shift the focus (at least for a moment) away from the joy rides, bungled briefings, doctored videos, double-standards, conflicting accounts, and the man we have been so obsessively focused on.

We all live in Donald’s Show, but it’s worth remembering that, even this close to the election, it’s not all about Trump. And that is why, amidst all of the thoughts and prayers, this whole thing is so infuriating

This is worth remembering:

But even that focus is too narrow. Nearly 44,000 Americans were infected with the coronavirus every day last week. More than 7.4 million Americans have tested positive and more than 209,000 have died.

Inevitably, we are all focused on Washington, D.C. and the toll the disease is taking on the connected and the powerful. But let’s look at what is happening in Wisconsin, where we are also seeing the fallout from Trump’s cultivated recklessness.

Since Thursday — the day that the White House says that Trump tested positive for COVID-19 — 10,389 Wisconsinites have been infected, and in that four day period, 50 died.

None of their trips to the hospital were covered on live television. Their conditions were not followed on Twitter and their deaths were not breaking news. You are unlikely to read the names of a single one of them.

But they are a reminder that the worst of this pandemic is playing out far from Walter Reed Hospital.

This is what we look like right now:

This is where Trump was planning to come on Saturday.

Had he not tested positive, he would have held two rallies in Wisconsin, with thousands of supporters, most of whom would not have worn masks. They were both potential super-spreader events.

Here’s another look at what is happening.

One of the rallies would have been held in Green Bay. Look at the map again. If you are an NFL fan you would know where it is; if not, it’s in the red blotch at the base of the thumb. The caseload has been exploding:

According to data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, roughly 43% of tests in Brown County in the past seven days have come back positive, while the county's two-week positivity rate sits at 35%. Green Bay had the third-highest infection rate in the country as of Friday, a New York Times analysis shows

On Saturday — the day Trump had been planning a rally in Green Bay — more than 250 local doctors signed an open letter pleading with residents and officials to try to contain the pandemic.

"To say that providing care to these patients is severely straining our local hospitals, health care workers and health systems is a drastic understatement," Rai wrote. "There is no other way to say it: we are overwhelmed."

The letter came as Brown County surpassed the grim milestone of 10,000 cases since the pandemic's onset, including 66 people who have died. At 10,022 cases, the virus has infected nearly 4% of the county's population. 

Also on Saturday, Wisconsin’s senior senator, Ron Johnson, announced that he had also tested positive. Just the night before (after he was tested, but before he had the results) Johnson had attended at large gathering of Republicans in my hometown, Mequon. The Ozaukee County Oktoberfest featured every elected GOP official in the area and was emceed by the state’s former attorney general. Tickets ranged from $40 to $500 which bought you “Gold priority seating” and “special host recognition.”

The Wisconsin event probably looked like a lot of other GOP events these days, because the tone was set from the top.

Via the Wapo:

Mask-wearing had become rare among Trump’s staff and the Secret Service agents and military service crew aboard Air Force One — even after national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien tested positive in July.

On the campaign trail, Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric have spoken to packed audiences in indoor venues…

They all took their cues from Trump himself, who has rarely worn masks, sometimes mocked those who did and disputed the advice from his own government’s experts.

In Wisconsin, The GOP has taken all of its cues from Trump.

On Friday — the same day that we learned of Trump’s positive test — Wisconsin’s legislative Republicans filed court documents urging the courts to throw out Governor Tony Evers’s statewide mask mandate.

This was consistent with the GOP’s approach to the pandemic. Almost from the beginning, the response has fallen along hyper-partisan lines. Some of the earliest demonstrations took place in Milwaukee suburbs. As I wrote in April: “Many of the protests devolved into festivals of recklessness and crackpottery, complete with conspiracy theorists, Confederate flags, gun-wielding cosplay, and chants of ‘lock her up.’”

There is no indication that there will be any pushback from either the main body of the Republican party or what now passes for the conservative movement. Indeed, Wisconsin is a good example of the way the GOP has gone all-in on the campaign for “liberation.

On talk radio and in social media, the state’s right wing pushed an aggressive nonchalance, mocking many of the steps that might have mitigated the spread of the pandemic. Wisconsin Republicans fought both the mask mandates and other health emergencies declared by the governor. They minimized the severity of the pandemic, litigated against a state of emergency, and treated calls for more aggressive social distancing with aggressive disregard. Famously, they forced in-person voting in April. The state’s conservative-dominated Supreme Court threw out the governor’s emergency order.

Even as the pandemic has roared back, the Trumpist GOP here has continued to downplay efforts at mitigation. Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield scoffed at the idea of masks. "There is not a scientific consensus that using face coverings have been proven to stop the spread of COVID. In the place of evidence, face masks have become a politicized mental placebo," Kapenga said. 

The attitude was widespread.

“If the leader of the free world can get this, I think it’s kind of silly for the rest of us to pretend a $3 handkerchief from Walmart is going to protect us,” Brian Westrate, the Wisconsin Republican Party treasurer told the Washington Post over the weekend.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel noted that State Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha, had declared: "Data is in: masks either hurt or do not seem to make a difference."

Allen, the paper noted, tested positive for the coronavirus five days later.


On Sunday, Trump’s willingness to put others at risk was on full display.

But the potential blast-radius of Trump’s recklessness extended far beyond just his own agents and staff.


Reality check: the GOP still plans to push through Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, despite the number of senators who have contracted COVID-19. They will change any rule and break any norm to get it done, no matter the political price. You heard it here.


Polling update: The situation is too fluid to get a reliable fix, but it seems safe to say at this point that Trump lost the first presidential debate. The new NBC/WSJ poll has Biden up 14 points; while a NYT/Siena poll found voters repelled by Trump’s behavior.

The folks at FiveThirtyEight now put Biden’s chances of wining at 81 out of 100.

Biden leads Trump in the the RealClearPolitics average by 8.1 points.

The Economist forecast model gives Biden an 89 percent chance of winning.

Which is great, as long as we don’t think too much about 2016….

There are now 29 days to go.

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Quick Takes

1. The Transformation of Mike Pompeo

Must read from A.B. Stoddard:

The hallmark of the transformation to Trumpkin is a skin shedding—once integrity is gone so is shame, then both are replaced by an insatiable hunger for dollars, access, or influence. Rick Wilson has abbreviated the process for us as “Everything Trump Touches Dies,” but those who don’t part with their shame shrivel up and disappear before enjoying the party favors.

Not Pompeo. At West Point he pledged that “a cadet will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.” The “spirit of the code” is that the cadet “is truthful, fair, respectful and responsible.” Not only has Pompeo tolerated lying, cheating, and likely plenty of stealing, but last week he even appears to have lied about the Pope.

On Thursday he gave a questionable answer about why the Pope didn’t meet with him at the Vatican. He told Fox News that the Pope was busy and often doesn’t meet with foreign ministers but he hopes to meet with him next year. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, said that Pompeo had asked but that “the Pope had already said clearly that political figures are not received in election periods.”

Lying about the Pope doesn’t bring in more campaign dollars but it’s part of the emerging picture of a changed Pompeo. With each new investigation or tacky revelation, Pompeo seems to be digging in with defiance. He has so sullied himself that he is liberated—he has gone full gangster.


2. Meet The Swing Voters Who Believe Crazy Things

Read what Rich Thau is hearing at his focus groups:

Without my inquiring about conspiracy theories or anything related, respondents offered these observations:

  • “I came across a couple theories that [Biden] was wired up, and they showed some evidence [at] that debate. Also, somebody pointed out, possibly he was wearing contact lenses that were projecting things for him.”

  • “I call it a ‘scam-demic’…. I know this firsthand. I have people in nursing homes. People are not dying from COVID, they’re dying with COVID. The numbers, and this is already starting to come out, have been fudged.”

  • “Another factor, and I don’t know how much truth there is to this, but it’s something that plays in my head, is this whole child predator ring that’s going around in Hollywood and how [Trump’s] got information on it and he may expose it. That’s kind of important. I have a small child…. Here’s just one example: Celebrities will commit suicide, and then it turns out they’re working on documentaries about child predator rings.”

Two other respondents in that same session said they believed the child predator story, which is the root of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

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Cheap Shots

1. Stable Genius Update

2. Huck The Comedian

3. Symbol of Failure


Deep Thoughts

1. Trump’s Battle with COVID Can Bring Us Together

David Shaywitz in today’s Bulwark (btw, the colleague is me):

I was reminded of the transcendent power of illness to unite in a brief exchange with a colleague about one of the prominent Republicans who was recently diagnosed with COVID, a senator whose rabid embrace of Trumpism had profoundly dismayed my colleague.

“Can’t imagine your schadenfreude level now,” I told him after I heard about the senator’s diagnosis.

“Actually no,” he wrote back. The senator, he explained simply, “was once one of my best friends.”