May 26, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The polarized pandemic election

A Trump supporter protests Pennsylvania's stay-at-home order, during a May 15 rally outside the Capitol in Harrisburg. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

President Trump is going all-in on pushing for a rapid, robust return to normal life, creating a visual, visceral contrast with Joe Biden and other Democrats who are more reticent to rip the masks off.

The state of play: Business friends have been urging Trump from the beginning to keep the lockdowns short. He's listening more and more.

  • Trump wants a packed auditorium for his convention in August, and yesterday threatened to move ("reluctantly") the years-in-the-making event from Charlotte if North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) doesn't quickly guarantee that a full house will be allowed.
  • Fearing erosion in his evangelical base, the president declared ahead of Memorial Day weekend that states must designate houses of worship as "essential" services. He threatened to "override the governors," which he can't.

The backdrop: So far, the pandemic has mostly been a blue-state problem, and red states are revolting.

  • The N.Y. Times calculates that counties won by Trump in 2016 — with 45% of the population — have recorded just 27% of virus infections and 21% of the deaths.
  • And Bloomberg reported: "In states Trump won in 2016, 23 people have lost a job for every 1 person infected. In states Democrat Hillary Clinton won, 13 people have lost a job for every person infected."

Reality check: Polling also shows that even in red states, most people remain cautious about reopening, and that the boisterous protests of stay-at-home orders aren't representative.

  • Our Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index consistently shows Americans aren’t rushing to go back to "normal," and are largely wearing masks and practicing social distancing across party lines and regions.
  • But when it comes to questions about reopening the economy, Republicans and rural voters aren’t worried as much as Democrats and residents of cities and suburbs.

The big picture: As part of this great divide, masks are becoming a political signifier, which is absurd.

  • North Dakota Doug Burgum (R) choked up last week as he implored his constituents not to turn masks into a red vs. blue issue.
  • "I would really love to see in North Dakota that we could just skip this ... divide — either it's ideological or political or something — around mask versus no mask," Burgum said. "This is a, I would say, senseless dividing line."
  • David Axelrod tweeted: "This is leadership."

What to watch: As Axios' Jonathan Swan reported, Trump plans more mask-free events as he resumes more frequent travel.

  • Tomorrow, the president will be in Florida for the nation's biggest feel-good moment in months — a NASA launch that's the first attempt by a private company to send astronauts into orbit.
  • And sources close to Trump told Swan they hope to have a boisterous, live crowd at his convention.
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