April 16, 2020

Majority of Americans Will Have Democrats at Helm
in Virus War in Wake of Trump Reopening Retreat

Feds Endorse Three-Phase Long Haul Strategy

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

President Donald Trump left the reopening of the American economy in the hands of governors including two dozen Democrats who represent 54 percent of the people in the country when he balked Thursday on a threat to use his powers to exclusively determine when coronavirus lockdowns that most states have in place would end.

The Republican president's decision to defer to the states in the pandemic response came several days after he'd claimed to have absolute authority in terms of the timing and the details of an economic resurrection that he'd been touting with May 1 as the target date for the start of the unprecedented undertaking.

Trump's folding cleared the way for Texas Governor Greg Abbott to issue an executive order that he plans to unveil on Friday without the threat of angering the president with a state economic rekindling proposal that might be substantially more cautious and gradual.

While Abbott has remained on Trump's good side since his election three years ago, other governors on both sides of the aisle had indicated they would challenge the president at the courthouse if he attempted to circumvent the states on a coronavirus comeback.

Abbott is one of 26 Republican governors in a nation where 24 Democrats have the top job in their respective states. But the Texas leader is one of only three GOP governors who are leading states that are ranked in the top 13 in population size based on the Census estimates last summer.

Republican governors had represented 58 percent of the voters in the U.S. heading into the last election cycle in 2018. But a majority of Americans live now in states that Democrats are leading after wrestling governors' offices away in seven states at the polls 18 months ago.

Democratic Governors J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan won open races for posts that Republicans were giving up without re-election bids. Illinois and Michigan were the sixth and 10th largest states in the tentative census projections last year.

Democratic Governors Tony Evers of Wisconsin and Andy Beshear ousted a pair of incumbent Republicans in Scott Walker and Matt Bevin respectively. Wisconsin ranked 20th in the 2019 population estimates while Kentucky was in the middle of the pack as the 26th largest state at the time. Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak moved the Democrats' column in an open contest in 2018 when Democratic Governors Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Janet Mills of Maine were elected as well in states that had been led by Republicans who weren't on the ballot again.

The first-term governors who are Democrats rode the same blue wave that swept their party into the majority in the U.S. House where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has wielded immense clout during the virus crisis and the assembling of a $2.2 trillion stimulus package she negotiated with Senate Republicans.

Abbott and other GOP statewide leaders won new terms in 2018 in races that ended up being much closer than they'd initially expected. Democrats picked up a dozen Texas House seats in a development that put them in position to take the Legislature's lower chamber back with a net gain of nine or more this fall. Democrats ousted a pair of longtime congressional Republicans in the Dallas and Houston areas while flipping two state Senate districts as well.

Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz survived the electoral onslaught when he beat Democrat Beto O'Rourke by less than 3 points after Trump had staged a huge rally for him in his home base of Houston in the closing weeks of the battle. Cruz had lost some support among Trump loyalists after blasting the eventual primary winner when the Texan bowed out of the presidential competition. But the voting results outside of Texas created the impression that the Republicans had been a substantial disadvantage by having to run in the controversial president's long shadow in the first midterm elections since he took over more than three years ago.

The most powerful Texan in Washington now - U.S. Senator John Cornyn - could face a more imposing challenge than Cruz encountered as a Republican incumbent who's seeking a new term in the race on the general election below right below the president to which he's tied himself increasingly throughout the past year. A half-dozen GOP candidates in congressional races that the Democrats are targeting in Texas this fall can probably expect to fare as poorly or as well as Trump does as the ticket leader who's been attempting to navigate uncharted waters in the face of an invisible enemy that's leaving a trail of death and devastation in its wake in a land that has no end game.

Trump had dismissed early reports of the coronavirus deadly potential as a media hoax two weeks before governors started closing businesses and sharply restricting social movement with shelter-in-place orders in states where local leaders in most major cities and counties had already imposed similar restrictions.

But Trump eventually began to take the crisis more seriously as he had before the death tolls soared - and after trying to create the impression of unstoppable momentum with public support and the business establishment on board - he appeared to capitulate today to advice that he'd ignored or rejected in an apparent bid to fight the virus with positive thinking based on personal hunches.

Trump had declared that the path that he'd take with the plan to jump-start of the virus-ravaged economy would be the toughest decision of his life. The punting of the task to the states where governors have been making the calls in concert with local leaders suggests that Trump finally realized that his re-election bid this year would be dead if he ignored warnings from experts on a premature reopening that backfired with an acceleration of the COVID-19 spread.

But Trump ran the risk of alienating the conservative base that carried him to victory in his initial campaign in 2016 with the abrupt turnabout on the engineering of an economic rebound that he'd initially vowed to have under way by the Easter weekend.

Republicans on the hard right have been demanding a rapid return to business as usual amid the assertion that the restrictions that the states and local governments had imposed in the past four or five weeks were an affront to liberty and freedom in the USA. Conservatives have contended that the failure to move quickly on a reopening would destroy the country.

With nothing to gain by bluffing, Trump's ambitious plans to get a nation that's been paralyzed back on track appeared to hit a huge snag on Wednesday when he received substantial push back from executives from some of the countries largest corporations that he'd named to a task force that he'd hastily assembled in the past week.

So Trump retreated on the day that he'd planned a grand reopening announcement - signing off instead on a new set of federal guidelines that the states will decide how to implement on their own timetables. The new federal recommendations that states don't have to follow revolve on a deliberate approach that could take months to complete without any specific timelines.

Trump had asserted on Wednesday that the contagion had peaked in the U.S. based on the rate of the increase of positive tests across the nation in the past week. But optimism that Abbott had other leaders from both parties have expressed in a so-called attempt to flatten the coronavirus curve have been overshadowing by staggering statistics in a nation where more than 670,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 including 16,906 in Texas by late Wednesday according to a running total at Johns Hopkins University. The private institution in Baltimore put the death toll in Texas at 414 a couple of hours before midnight tonight.


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