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What if? How politics in 2020 might have looked if the pandemic had never happened –



Imagine this: in the early morning hours of Nov. 4, Joe Biden climbs onto the stage inside the crowded Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware. His forced smile can’t hide the months of strain and the crushing disappointment he feels. After thanking Americans for their votes, the former vice president pauses.

“I just got off the phone with President Trump and congratulated him on his victory.”

Those last words are drowned out by a chorus of boos from the mass of shocked supporters in front of him. For them, it’s just sinking in: the Trump era isn’t over ...

That didn’t happen, of course. Weakened by his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump lost his re-election bid. In a few weeks, Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.

But the U.S. election was just one of the political events that might have played out quite differently had the pandemic not upended the course of history in 2020.

To hypothesize on the impact this global upheaval has had on the past year in politics, let’s look through the portal at some alternative political scenarios — things that might have happened if the pandemic had not happened.

Scenario one: New Brunswick’s revolving-door politics keeps spinning

When the Liberals, Greens and Independent MLA Robert Gauvin voted against the budget brought forward by New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government in March, it was clear the election was going to be closely fought. Less than two years earlier, Blaine Higgs and the PCs had secured only one seat more than the incumbent Liberals.

It was enough to give Higgs a minority government in 2018. In this no-pandemic alternate history, it’s not enough to make his government last past 2020.

This counterfactual campaign sees the PCs going to voters boasting of a second consecutive balanced budget and the Liberals’ Kevin Vickers warning that cuts to the province’s emergency room services — from which the PCs backed down in February after an outcry — would go ahead if the PCs were re-elected. The Greens, meanwhile, argue that keeping the PCs to a minority would be the only way to ensure these cuts would not go ahead.

We can imagine a close race under these circumstances, with neither the PCs nor the Liberals making deep inroads, the Greens rising in public support and the small People’s Alliance putting itself back into contention in a few seats.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, centre, called a provincial election in September, two years before the scheduled vote. His government had been at risk of defeat in the legislature in the spring before attention turned to COVID-19. (Stephen MacGillivray / Canadian Press)

More deadlock would be a likely consequence, with the PCs and Liberals emerging from the election with the same number of seats and the Greens making a gain of one. That puts the Greens in the driver’s seat; when the legislature re-convenes, they swing their support to Vickers and the Liberals and defeat the PCs — the fourth consecutive election to see New Brunswick’s incumbent government go down to defeat.

By the end of 2020, with fissures widening between the Liberals and the Greens over the government’s support for small modular nuclear reactors, pundits start speculating about a third provincial election in less than three years.

(In reality, Higgs was able to co-operate with the opposition parties to quickly pass the budget and shut down the legislature. Buoyed by strong poll numbers in August, Higgs pulled the plug on his minority government and secured a majority in September’s election.)

Scenario two: Biden’s drawn-out victory over Sanders for the Democratic nomination

In this no-pandemic alternate universe, we can still envision Biden’s comeback in the race for the Democratic primary starting on Super Tuesday; that’s when (in the real world) he beat expectations, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, in a number of states.

From that point on in this scenario, he’s the front runner again. But there is still a lot of race left to run.

In 2016, Sanders continued to contest states long after Hillary Clinton’s nomination was all but mathematically clinched. He does the same thing in 2020, despite calls for Sanders to unite behind Biden to take down Trump.

A rough debate performance for Biden in April doesn’t improve the math for Sanders — but it does result in a slide in Biden’s head-to-head polling with the Republican incumbent.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, right, withdrew from the Democratic presidential primaries in April because of the worsening state of the pandemic, leaving the field open for the eventual winner, Joe Biden (left). He did not withdraw when he was in a similar position in the Democratic primaries in 2016. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

The crowds are still energized and enthusiastic at the Democratic national convention that officially nominates Biden as the party’s presidential candidate. There’s no pro-Sanders demonstration on the convention floor, as there was in 2016 — but few believe that the rifts within the party have been healed.

(Reality check: as the pandemic spread throughout the U.S. in March, Biden racked up big wins in the primaries that were still being held. Sanders withdrew from the campaign in early April, saying that as he saw “the crisis gripping the nation, exacerbated by President Trump,” he could not “in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win.”)

Scenario three: Peter MacKay wins the Conservative leadership race

Unlike the Democratic primaries, the race for the Conservative leadership turned out to be a lot closer than most observers expected. In our alternate universe, Peter MacKay — the man who began the contest as the front runner — ends up winning it when Conservative members choose their new leader in June.

Ontario MP Erin O’Toole makes it a nail-biter, though. As social conservative candidates Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis drop off the ballot, O’Toole receives the vast majority of their votes. But MacKay’s first ballot showing is too strong and O’Toole can’t catch him.

Former cabinet minister Peter MacKay lost the Conservative leadership vote in August. His chances might have been better had the vote gone ahead in June, as was originally planned before the pandemic forced the party to postpone the voting. (Tijana Martin / Canadian Press)

A longer campaign might have benefited O’Toole, who gains momentum in the last weeks of the race, as does Lewis. (In the real world, a longer campaign did lift up both O’Toole and Lewis.) But in this scenario, the leads in endorsements, fundraising and support MacKay built up in the early days of the short contest prove decisive.

In his victory speech in a hot, crowded convention centre in Toronto, MacKay announces his first priority as leader: bringing down the Trudeau government.

(Meanwhile, in the real world: because of the pandemic, the Conservatives put their leadership race on hold at the end of March and postponed the vote to August, though MacKay argued for the vote to be moved up in the schedule. The longer campaign may have benefited the lesser-known O’Toole, who won with the backing of Lewis’s voters on the final ballot. The Lewis campaign attracted more fundraising and interest in the later stages of the contest.)

Scenario four: Trudeau’s Liberals hold on — barely

In our alternative universe, MacKay’s leadership victory gives the Conservatives a small bump in the polls, particularly in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. The Bloc Québécois and the New Democrats, spotting an opportunity to take advantage of sagging Liberal numbers, join the Conservatives in bringing down the government as soon as the House returns in September.

This delays the scheduled provincial election in Saskatchewan until 2021. It also rules out an early election in British Columbia, where Premier John Horgan’s New Democrats have only a precarious lead in the polls anyway.

The federal election is a bruising one for Justin Trudeau, as MacKay and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh team up against him in the English-language debate. But post-debate gains for the Conservatives turn out to be short-lived, as MacKay’s French can’t withstand grilling by Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet, who focuses his attacks on the Conservative leader as polls show the Tories making inroads in Quebec.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seen here speaking with reporters on Parliament Hill in February, saw a boost in support over his handling of the pandemic. At the beginning of the year, however, his Liberals were neck-and-neck with the Conservatives in the polls. (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press)

The results of the election leave the country in a state of political limbo. The Conservatives make significant gains in Atlantic Canada and flip a few seats in the Greater Toronto Area, but fail to win new seats in Quebec. The NDP picks up a few extra seats in B.C. but the Liberals still manage to come out narrowly ahead nationwide.

That keeps Trudeau in the prime minister’s office with a reduced minority government that needs the support of two opposition parties, rather than one, to get legislation passed. With gains to point to, Blanchet, Singh and MacKay all stay on as leaders. So does Trudeau — but the chatter in Ottawa quickly turns to a potential Liberal leadership race in 2021.

(Reality check: when the pandemic began, the Liberals and Conservatives were tied in national polling. The government’s handling of the pandemic boosted it in the polls and the Liberals have been ahead consistently since the spring. The ongoing pandemic and the limited electoral prospects for the opposition parties have combined to help forestall an early federal election.)

Donald Trump beats his polls (and the Democrats) again

In our no-pandemic timeline, Joe Biden has been leading in national polls against Trump since the moment he became the odds-on favourite to win the Democratic nomination. But his lead isn’t much wider than the advantage the polls gave Hillary Clinton in 2016. Though Biden’s favourables remain better than Trump’s (or Clinton’s, for that matter), the incumbent president still scores high on his handling of the economy.

It’s difficult to unseat a U.S. president when the economy is doing well and unemployment is low — even a president as unpopular as Trump. But Biden’s slender lead holds firm throughout the summer and fall, with pollsters insisting they’ve taken steps to avoid repeating the mistakes they made in 2016. Even though it’s narrow, Biden’s lead is seen as more trustworthy.

Polls suggested U.S. President Donald Trump got far better marks for his handling of the economy than he did the COVID-19 outbreak. Had the focus of the election been on the economy, his chances of winning would have been much better. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

Election night comes as a shock for many Americans — though perhaps not nearly as surprising as the results were four years earlier. The networks are able to call the result shortly after midnight, when Pennsylvania goes to Trump. Though Trump loses the popular vote again (something he later claims without evidence was due to Republican mail-in ballots being thrown out), he also beats his polls again, and Biden succeeds only in flipping Michigan to the Democrats’ column.

While Republicans celebrate the result, the divided Democratic Party begins asking itself hard questions about what went wrong.

(The reality: in February, Biden’s lead over Trump was only about four percentage points. While Trump initially received a bump in support over his early handling of the pandemic, the pandemic seriously undermined his chances of winning as caseloads started to swell. Biden’s lead grew to a little more than eight points by the end of the campaign. In the end, Trump did beat his polls by about four points nationwide. Had the race been closer, that might have been enough for him to win re-election.)

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Donald Trump may not be done disrupting American politics, only this time it could actually end up being an improvement – Salt Lake Tribune



President Joe Biden set the tone for his new administration last week seeking to reunite a divided country.
“This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge,” he said, “and unity is the path forward and we must meet this moment as the United States of America.”
It was a noble, aspirational inauguration speech and a message this divided country needed to hear. But it won’t be easy, not in a political environment where for years Americans have been pushed into clans and fed resentment and mistrust.
Sen. Ben Sasse from Nebraska wrote a piece in The Atlantic last week about the reckoning the Republican Party is facing and the soul-searching and house-cleaning that needs to take place to set it in the right direction.
This assumes the Republican Party can be salvaged. It may be too late for that, and there’s another guy who shares that view: Recently unemployed Florida man Donald Trump.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Trump had discussed creating a new political party — the Patriot Party — as a refuge for his true believers.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as he’s out of office he comes up with an idea that makes sense. I say that not because it might blow up the Republican Party. I say it because the two-party system is the worst feature of modern American politics.
Our government is so hopelessly dysfunctional that facing a crisis of historic proportions, it took months to pass a COVID relief bill — and that’s just one example. But the larger problem is that the current party structure isn’t about governing at all. It’s about power and holding onto that power by creating a big enough tent.
It has reached a point, however, that in this push to be everything to everybody, the parties have lost any philosophical cohesion.
In what world can you have a Republican Party going forward that includes both Mitt Romney and the people who rampaged through the Capitol looking to take members of Congress hostage? And how does the average Republican feel represented by that party?
The Democrats have an identity crisis of their own, trying to hold together people like Ben McAdams and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.
Trying to find a way for everyone to fit means nobody fits well, like Cinderella’s stepsisters trying to cram their feet into ill-fitting slippers. It makes sense that nearly a third of Utah voters choose to not affiliate with either party. That number will continue to grow.
That’s because, as humans, we all have different experiences that inform different world views and beliefs. Things aren’t black-and-white, purely Democratic or Republican.
Maybe you are pro-life but believe in a liberal immigration policy and are a dyed-in-the-wool union member. Or you are devoutly religious, love your guns and think the threat of climate change is dire and everyone deserves a guaranteed income. Or you’re a Black entrepreneur who opposes government regulation but believes Black Lives Matter and police should stop shooting people.
None of that matters in our current system. Donkey or elephant, blue or red — those are your choices. Don’t like it? Feel free to throw away your vote.
If your grocery store gave you two choices of toilet paper — both of them bad, like mesh vs. extra coarse — you’d probably find another store, but this is the only store we have.
Hillary Stirling, the newly minted chairwoman of the United Utah Party would like to give people more choices. Both nationally and in Utah, she said, the two major party agendas are driven by the fringes.
“The people on the extremes are the people who are most active, most interested in politics, so they’re the ones who show up and are most vocal,” she said. That leaves those in the middle dissatisfied with their voices, but the United Utah Party has struggled, like all third-parties, to make much headway.
The inevitable result of these two combatant parties trying to remain in power is we end up with pure bloodsport. The incentives are on obstruction and demonization, not collaboration and compromise. It partly explains why we’ve seen the fierce polarization — fueled by media and online outlets that drive the wedge deeper, which in turn are exploited by opportunistic, ambitious politicians.
We’ve seen other parties rise and fade and we have a handful of third parties in place now, but they aren’t viable because the two parties that make the rules have created a system that perpetuates their power. And because they’re the only viable options, they get all the money.
Without money, minor parties can’t put their candidates in front of people, they can’t get on the ballot, they can’t get into the debates, they can’t win — and when they can’t win donors won’t give money.
“Especially the way our current system is set up, it’s either/or. The question that is currently asked is: Who do you want out of these two people?” Stirling said. “There are better ways to do it, so let’s try those better ways.”
Those better ways, though, will take serious structural changes like public campaign financing, ranked-choice voting or electing members of Congress proportionately, rather than from districts gerrymandered to benefit one party or the other.
The other possibility is the rise of a viable third, and maybe fourth, parties, something Theodore Roosevelt’s popularity couldn’t do and that Ross Perot’s money couldn’t do. It’s possible Trump could use both money and a cult-like following to disrupt the two-party system.
Or, perhaps, Biden is right and, despite a track record to the contrary, Democrats and Republicans can come together and chart a new course and we don’t need major reforms to our system. I hope he is right.
Given our recent history, however, it seems more likely that we’ll see more of the same, with the two parties, left to their own self-serving devices, continuing to pull Americans further and further apart until there is a rift that can’t be healed.

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Politics Chat: Biden To Sign More Executive Orders In First Full Week As President – NPR



President Biden will begin his first full week in the White House. Many of the executive orders he’s been signing and will sign this week are part of a plan he laid out for his first 10 days.

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Why Biden's vaccine goals are likely too modest and good politics – CNN



That’s generally in line with other polling (such as last week’s CNN/SSRS survey) that showed that most Americans were displeased with how Donald Trump’s administration handled the coronavirus pandemic.
What’s the point: President Joe Biden’s administration has come under some criticism for its goal to deliver 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine in its first 100 days. Some people believe it is too modest a goal. The Biden administration has pushed back on that claim.
A look at the statistics reveal that it may very well be too modest, but it’s likely good politics.
Let’s start with the basic fact that humans developing multiple Covid-19 vaccines in less than a year was a scientific achievement for the ages.
The Trump administration then completely botched the expectations game on the vaccine rollout. They set an initial goal of getting 20 million vaccine doses into the arms of Americans by the end of 2020.
As I noted last week, we simply didn’t come close to reaching that milestone in December.
We’re very likely to hit 20 million total doses administered? in the next few days, however, as more than 19 million doses have been administered as of early Friday.
Overall, as Biden White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed out, “less than 500,000 shots a day” were administered during Trump’s time in office once the first shots were given on December 14.
It’s a true statement, but I must admit that it feels like it doesn’t encapsulate all the facts. You can’t just look at the entirety of the Trump run to determine whether Biden’s setting a low goal.
After all, it takes time for the states and the federal government to figure out how to coordinate with each other and themselves to distribute the vaccines.
Moreover, a number of states were very strict with who could get the vaccines at first. There were reports of doses getting thrown out.
States have since opened up the eligibility. Combined with more practice in actually delivering the vaccine, the number of people getting doses each state has gone up dramatically.
Since January 13, we have averaged greater than 800,000 doses administered every day. On three days since that date, we’ve had more than a million people get the vaccine. This includes on Friday, when the CDC reported an increase of more than 1.5 million doses administered from the day before.
We’ve done a better job of administering the doses we have than we used to. We used to only administer less than a third of the doses distributed. Only once before January 12 had we administered more than 33%. It’s been above that every day since. In fact, it’s been greater than 45% each of the last four days reported.
This is before the Biden administration has had any real opportunity to change anything from the Trump administration.
Of course, the past isn’t always prologue. We could run out of vaccines, but that doesn’t seem likely at this point.
We know that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have pledged to deliver 200 million doses of their vaccine combined in the first quarter of this year (i.e. through March). This doesn’t even count the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which, if approved, could deliver tens of millions more doses by the beginning of April.
The bottom line is that it’s very easy to see how the Biden administration hits 100 million doses in 100 days. We’re basically already doing it, and we should have the doses available to keep doing it.
Indeed, America may end up doing considerably better than 100 million doses in 100 days.
Now, it’s possible that things go awry in vaccine production or distribution. That’s why it’s usually best to keep expectations low.
Biden’s team, if anything, wants to do the exact opposite of what Trump did. They don’t want to set a bar that can easily prove impossible to beat. They want a bar that can be met and can potentially be exceeded.
In other words, they may end up under-promising and over-delivering.
Usually, voters reward politicians who do what Biden’s team could do. They clearly punished Trump for the opposite.
To be clear, Americans expect Biden to fulfill his promise. The vast majority (70%) of Americans told CNN pollsters that the Biden administration is at least somewhat likely to reach its goal of 100 million does in 100 days.
If we don’t, there could be a heavy political price to pay.
Before we bid adieu: The theme song of the week is Scrubs.

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