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On the roster: Corona populism – Testing woes deepen – Deal pending on next half trillion – Bernie backers far from sold – The horse was in the barn all along
On Sunday, Brazil’s populist leader, Jair Bolsonaro, joined anti-quarantine protests against… his own government.
Now, it’s obviously more complicated in the sense that aspiring strongman Bolsonaro is directing his ire at parts of the government outside of his direct control or agencies like his health department that have resisted his push for eliminating restrictions.
But the truth of the contradictory demands for populist leaders in these times is evident. What do you do when you made your bones attacking leaders in difficult moments like these when you’re the man and this is your moment?
There’s no reliable information about how bad the coronavirus is in Brazil, especially with Bolsonaro’s efforts to discourage official notice of the pandemic. But in a large, poor country with limited infrastructure and lots of people living in very close quarters, the concerns are real.
Bolsonaro’s core constituency, though, is older, working-class Brazilians who deeply resent the country’s cultural shift in the past 40 years. He was swept into power on a social media-fueled wave as a backlash against the corrupt, secularizing, globalist political establishment that has formed since the end of the country’s military dictatorship in the late 1980s.
He was part of the old dictatorship and launched his political career following a clash with the new civilian-controlled military that made him a major media figure 30 years ago. The massive corruption in the ruling Worker’s Party in the mid-2010s opened the door for the military and nationalists like Bolsonaro. He formed a new unity party of right-wing blocs, a party that appears to be something of a family business, packed with his relatives.
While other nationalistic populists quickly used coronavirus as an excuse to consolidate power, Bolsonaro has been a skeptic from the start. It was Bolsonaro whose delegation to President Trump’s winter White House in Palm Beach, Fla. turned the Mar-a-Lago Club into something of a corona hotspot in early March. At a point when many were pulling back from travel, he brought two aides who turned out to be carriers to hang with America’s president.
As Trump and the rest of the developed world last month moved to emergency footing for the virus, Bolsonaro has remained defiant. He has fired two top public health officials for contradicting his claims and continues to demand an end to restrictions on the state and local level. He wants international travel restored, a full resumption of economic activity and strongly hints that the pandemic is fake.
The protesters who gathered outside Brazil’s army headquarters were asking for the military to intervene. There’s plenty of junta nostalgia among older Brazilians, so maybe that’s not so surprising. But what is definitely a twist is that the head of the government would cheer on those seeking a coup.
But maybe it’s actually quite simple.
If Bolsanaro was doing what Americans have traditionally sought from politicians – working with his team and apolitically cooperating with his political rivals to produce good government in a time of crisis – he might become the object of the mob, not its leader.
He could be blamed for both the results of the plague and the consequences of the efforts to remediate it.
In a country where reliable information is hard to come by and political misinformation spreads rapidly via social media, Bolsonaro and his family could quickly be recast as the enemies of the yearned-for return to authoritarianism. He doesn’t (yet) have the power to do be the kind of dictator they want, so why not join them in their calls for dictatorship?
When Bolsonaro shouts to the mob, “We don’t want to negotiate anything. We want action for Brazil!” we know what he means. He’s like Willie Stark in “All the Kings’ Men” exhorting the mob that had marched on the capitol by torchlight to save him from impeachment to give him even more power: “Gimme that meat ax!”
So in his own way, Bolsonaro is using the crisis to try to consolidate power. He’s just playing an outside game.
THE RULEBOOK: JOHNNY B GOODS
“The standard of good behavior for the continuance in office of the judicial magistracy, is certainly one of the most valuable of the modern improvements in the practice of government.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 78
TIME OUT: TALK ABOUT AN INNOVATOR
The Writer’s Almanac: “It’s the birthday of one of the founders of psychiatry, Philippe Pinel, born in Saint-André, France (1745). He studied mathematics, theology, and internal medicine before becoming the chief physician at a Paris insane asylum in 1792. Before Pinel arrived, conditions at the asylum were horrible: among other things, patients were chained to the walls, and people could pay a fee to come in and watch them. Pinel put a stop to these practices, as well as misguided treatments like bleeding, purging, and blistering. People generally believed that the insane were possessed by demons, but Pinel argued that they were just under a lot of stress. He started treating patients by talking to them about their problems in intense conversations on a regular basis, which paved the way for modern counseling practices.”
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TRUMP JOB PERFORMANCE
Average approval: 46 percent
Average disapproval: 49.2 percent
Net Score: -3.2 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 0.2 points
[Average includes: NBC News/WSJ: 46% approve – 51% disapprove; Gallup: 43% approve – 54% disapprove; Fox News: 49% approve – 49% disapprove; Monmouth University: 46% approve – 49% disapprove; CNBC: 46% approve – 43% disapprove.]
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TESTING WOES DEEPEN
WSJ: “Amid efforts to expand coronavirus testing, laboratory operators and state health officials are navigating a thicket of supply shortages, widespread test backlogs, unexpected snafus and unreliable results, often with no referee—prolonging the national crisis. Public health experts say fast, widespread testing is a key requirement for safely reopening businesses and returning to something close to normal life, because it would allow officials to detect new cases quickly and stem outbreaks. As President Trump and many of his advisers focus more attention on the nation’s economic reopening, lower ranking officials are trying to sort out the testing puzzle and individual labs are vying for supplies in a fractured and exhausted marketplace.”
Trump says he will force private firm to make tests – NYT: “President Trump on Sunday said the administration was preparing to use the Defense Production Act to compel an unspecified U.S. facility to increase production of test swabs by over 20 million per month. The announcement came during his Sunday evening news conference, after he defended his response to the pandemic amid criticism from governors across the country claiming that there has been an insufficient amount of testing to justify reopening the economy any time soon. ‘We are calling in the Defense Production Act,’ Mr. Trump said. He added, ‘You’ll have so many swabs you won’t know what to do with them.’ He provided no details about what company he was referring to, or when the administration would invoke the act. And his aides did not immediately respond when asked to provide more details.”
FDA remains under fire – WaPo: “The Food and Drug Administration, criticized for slowness in authorizing tests to detect coronavirus infections, has taken a strikingly different approach to antibody tests, allowing more than 90 on the market without prior review, including some marketed fraudulently and of dubious quality, according to testing experts and the agency itself. Antibody, or serological, tests are designed to identify people who may have overcome covid-19, including those who had no symptoms, and developed an immune response. They are not designed to detect active infections.”
Popular support for quarantine high, but partisan divide sharp – NBC News: “Nearly 60 percent of American voters say they are more concerned that relaxing stay-at-home restrictions would lead to more COVID-19 deaths than they are that the restrictions will hurt the U.S. economy, according to a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. But while strong majorities of Democrats and independents are more worried about the coronavirus than the economy, Republicans are divided on the question, with almost half of them more concerned about how the restrictions could affect the economy. The poll also finds a significant change in attitudes about the coronavirus. The percentage of voters saying they’re worried that a family member might catch it has increased by 20 points since last month’s survey. And those saying the coronavirus has changed their families’ day-to-day lives in a major way has jumped by more than 50 points from the March NBC News/WSJ poll.”
Quarantine protests present opportunity for radicals – WaPo: “A trio of far-right, pro-gun provocateurs is behind some of the largest Facebook groups calling for anti-quarantine protests around the country, offering the latest illustration that some seemingly organic demonstrations are being engineered by a network of conservative activists. The Facebook groups target Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and they appear to be the work of Ben Dorr, the political director of a group called ‘Minnesota Gun Rights,’ and his siblings, Christopher and Aaron. By Sunday, the groups had roughly 200,000 members combined, and they continued to expand quickly, days after President Trump endorsed such protests by suggesting citizens should ‘liberate’ their states. The Dorr brothers manage a slew of pro-gun groups across a wide range of states, from Iowa to Minnesota to New York, and seek primarily to discredit organizations like the National Rifle Association as being too compromising on gun safety.”
DEAL PENDING ON NEXT HALF TRILLION
AP: “The Trump administration and Congress expect an agreement Monday on an aid package of up to $450 billion to boost a small-business loan program that has run out of money and add funds for hospitals and COVID-19 testing. As talks continued, President Donald Trump said there’s a ‘good chance’ of reaching a bipartisan agreement with Democrats. ‘We are very close to a deal,’ Trump said Sunday at the White House. Along with the small business boost, Trump said the negotiators were looking at ‘helping our hospitals,’ particularly hard-hit rural health care providers. The Senate is scheduled for a pro forma session Monday, but no vote has been set. The House announced it could meet as soon as Wednesday for a vote on the pending package, according to a schedule update from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.”
Bipartisan House moderates tout ‘back to work’ plan – Fox News: “‘The bottom line is people I think are eager for a checklist. They want to understand what we think it takes to get everything moving again,’ Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, told Fox News. The Problem Solvers Caucus on Monday will unveil publicly its ‘Back to Work’ checklist that is poised to be an influential framework in Washington in future rounds of coronavirus relief packages. The plan got the green light from the group of pragmatic lawmakers determined to deliver Americans some relief. ‘What this checklist does is it shows that if you’re sincere and you want to put partisan politics aside … you can actually roll up your sleeves and you can find some common ground that makes a lot of good common sense,’ Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, told Fox News.”
BERNIE BACKERS FAR FROM SOLD
NYT: “Mary Shippee voted for Senator Bernie Sanders in Wisconsin’s Democratic primary this month… Now that Mr. Sanders has dropped out and endorsed former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Ms. Shippee is torn over whether to once again cast a vote for a moderate Democrat in November, after grudgingly supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016 and President Barack Obama in 2012. … ‘For the third election in a row, to have a candidate you’re not excited about makes me a little more interested in voting third party.’ … In interviews with two dozen Sanders primary voters across the country this week, there was a nearly universal lack of enthusiasm for Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee. Some called him a less formidable candidate than Hillary Clinton was in 2016. Many were skeptical of his ability to beat Mr. Trump. Others were quick to critique Mr. Biden’s sometimes incoherent speech.”
Brian Arbour: Biden’s struggles with young voters needn’t be forever – Fox News: “The root of the concern for these figures to Biden’s left is that he will not generate sufficient turnout among young voters in November to propel him past Donald Trump. Based on results in the Democratic primary, this concern is justified. … But like they say in ads for financial products: past performance does not necessarily predict future results. A review of recent elections shows that just because a candidate has a weakness with a particular group of primary voters does not mean he will be weak with that same group in the general election. The warnings that Democrats have offered Biden in 2020 echo those that Obama received in 2008 from Hispanic Democrats that ‘he risks losing the Latino vote in the general election if he does not reach out to Hispanic voters.’ These warnings were overstated; in November, Obama won Hispanics in a landslide 67-32, a 15-point improvement over John Kerry’s performance in 2004 with this group.”
Trump’s economic agenda at odds with GOP anti-China stance – NYT: “With the death toll from the pandemic already surpassing 34,000 Americans and unemployment soaring to levels not seen since the Great Depression, Republicans increasingly believe that elevating China as an archenemy culpable for the spread of the virus, and harnessing America’s growing animosity toward Beijing, may be the best way to salvage a difficult election. … Eager to continue trade talks, uneasy about further rattling the markets and hungry to protect his relationship with President Xi Jinping at a moment when the United States is relying on China’s manufacturers for lifesaving medical supplies, Mr. Trump has repeatedly muddied Republican efforts to fault China. [He] has repeatedly called Mr. Xi a friend and said ‘we are dealing in good faith’ with the repressive government. He also dropped his periodic references to the disease as ‘the China virus’ after a telephone call with Mr. Xi.”
Trump’s fights with Democratic governors hint at fall contests – AP: “The inconsistencies in President Donald Trump’s coronavirus response are evident as Democrats show new signs of unifying behind presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden. Heading into the weekend, the Republican president actively encouraged people to protest stay-at-home orders in a handful of battleground states led by Democratic governors. It could well exacerbate a political divide across America in the coming days. Democrats, meanwhile, are showing new signs of unifying behind Biden following the sudden endorsements of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and former President Barack Obama. Biden still has glaring political liabilities, but as the coronavirus continues to define the political landscape, Democrats and Republicans seem to be moving in opposite directions.”
SMALL-DOLLAR DONORS KEEP TRUMP MACHINE CHUGGING
Politico: “The Republican National Committee raised a record $24 million last month, an early indication that President Donald Trump’s fundraising machine could be able to withstand the economic collapse brought on by the coronavirus. Despite a global pandemic that has shuttered much of the U.S. economy, the RNC’s total represented its best March fundraising performance in history. The figures will be part of a federal campaign finance filing due Monday. … The committee’s March totals are slightly less than the $26 million it raised in February. But the new figures illustrate the potency of Trump’s small-dollar machine. The president has monetized the enthusiasm of his base, turning it into a cash spigot that has funded a sprawling political apparatus.”
Dems too – Politico: “Democrats’ digital money machine had its biggest quarter ever to start this year, as online donors poured cash into the presidential primary and helped congressional Democrats build a financial advantage in many of their biggest House and Senate races. More than 4.3 million donors gave $533 million through ActBlue, the online donor platform used by thousands of Democratic candidates and organizations, in the first three months of 2020. The group announced Monday that the quarter set records across numerous other metrics, too, including sign-ups for ActBlue Express — the feature that saves users’ credit card information, allowing one-click donations to campaigns using the platform.”
Big money, good recruits help Dems in bid to retake Senate – Politico: “Republicans started this election cycle as heavy favorites to keep their Senate majority, with a lineup of elections mostly in red-tinted states and GOP incumbents favored over a slate of relatively unknown and untested challengers. Now, nearly six months out from the election, Democrats are making them sweat. Republicans are still more likely than not to maintain control, but Democrats strengthened their hand with a slate of challengers raising massive sums of money in races that represent the heart of the battle for the majority, putting control of the Senate within reach. … Steven Law, president of the super PAC Senate Leadership Fund and a top ally to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said in a recent interview there is a sense among donors and allies that it could be a ‘challenging election from top to bottom.’
Kevin Williamson: The Age of Hog and Hominy – National Review
Phil Klein: The Coronavirus Generation – WashEx
Pergram: Could Trump ‘adjourn’ Congress? – Fox News
AUDIBLE: HEY NOW
“It was hard to get it aroused, and it is hard to get it aroused, but we got it aroused.” – President Trump during his Sunday coronavirus announcements extemporizing while reading an article praising himself for extolling the “reluctantly aroused” American way in action.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“It’s beginning to look like the OPEC deal was just frosting on the cake. The fracking industry will have a major resurgence on its own due to the need to fuel all the gaslighting going on in DC.” – George Fuller, St. Louis
[Ed. note: I’m not quite sure who you think is gaslighting whom, Mr. Fuller. The term, as I know you know, comes from the 1944 melodrama with Charles Boyer as the villainous husband and Ingrid Bergman as his innocent wife and victim. I don’t know if “Victorian noir” is a thing, but if it is, this would have been it. Based on a successful play called “Angel Street,” the movie tells the story of how a husband tries to drive his wife mad, in part, by fiddling with the gaslights and making her question her grip on reality. I wish I could spoil the ending to spare anyone who hasn’t seen this overwrought, overacted, over draperied period piece the hour and a half they will spend in creepy discomfort before the matter is resolved in the final minutes. Anyway, Hitchcock it ain’t… But the movie lives on in the term you used which is supposed to mean trying to make people question reality by denying obvious truths. If I eat the toasted raviolis off your plate and then profess confusion as to why you’re accusing me of this heinous act or, even better, say that maybe you ate them and are just shifting blame for your own gluttony, then I would be gaslighting you. (For the record, while I might steal your toasted ravs – especially if they’re Charlie Gitto’s or Kemoll’s – I would certainly own up to it.) But I think what I’m mostly seeing in Washington now is just plain hypocrisy and its cousin, willful ignorance. Both sides want the same result but are pretending very much like they are deeply opposed. I guess maybe the gaslighting you’re talking about is aimed at voters.]
“I absolutely agree with your comments regarding the televising of Congress. Yuval Levin makes the point in his most recent book about how democracy and openness are good things, but too much transparency and openness wreaks the ability of the insiders of the institution to compromise and make deals. The new obsession with ‘authenticity’ and becoming ‘your real self’ over true character is turning our political institutions, as Mr. Levin points out, into little more than platforms for performative displays. I am a high school student and love your daily political note! I also subscribe to your and Ms. Perino’s wonderful podcast, I’ll Tell You What. I actually was fortunate enough to meet Ms. Perino two years ago at an event here in Colorado. She was incredibly kind and encouraging and has inspired me to continue learning about and following my passion for politics, history, and economics. You mentioned on the podcast a few weeks back the importance of having something to look forward to each day in quarantine, and The Halftime Report and the podcast are quickly becoming my daily highlights. Thank you (and Ms. Perino) for your good work!” – Kaitlin Johnson, Conifer, Colo.
[Ed. note: Well that’s just about as fine a thing as anyone could ever say! Thank you very much, Ms. Johnson. I will make sure to flag your note for Dana. Please continue to abide well in these straitened circumstances and keep us posted on where your road leads.]
“Politicians would act a lot faster if their pay was suspended like many Americans. They do little enough for what we pay them so now is the time for them pay us back. I know it won’t happen as they only care about themselves.” – Michael Johnson, Fairfield Glade, Tenn.
[Ed. note: Some more than others, I suspect. There are a lot of really rich humans in Congress, especially the Senate. Interrupting congressional pay would create imbalanced incentives. What if the guy or gal holding things up was protecting your interests? What if they were broke and couldn’t miss a paycheck and faced extra pressure to abandon their position? Don’t worry, though, nobody is going to listen to my ideas for congressional reform, either. Aside from increasing the number of representatives by about 50 percent and dramatically shrinking congressional staffs, I strongly favor a congressional dormitory. We do away with housing allowances for members but provide a clean, safe, relatively comfortable place for them to bunk when they are in town. Many rich members would surely absent themselves from dorm life, but I think I would be thrifty, encourage humility and develop fellow feeling among members.]
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
THE HORSE WAS IN THE BARN ALL ALONG
Hot Rod: “John Grafelman bleeds Ford blue. He says he is ‘always looking for old Fords.’ He remembers reading as far back as the early ’80s about the long-lost 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302 prototype once owned by car designer Larry Shinoda. Now, wouldn’t that be a Mustang to find? Incredibly, this hardworking farmer from Peoria, Illinois, already owned that very Mustang. Unbeknownst to him, the ’69 Cobra Jet fastback he bought through an ad in the local newspaper was that very car. … The seller made no mention of the car’s prototype background. The Cobra Jet fastback’s unique features could have easily been lost in the hands of either a restorer or a modifier. However, John proved to be very observant. … Shinoda always wondered what happened to his old Boss prototype. He sold the hot car to his tailor in Brighton, Michigan, sometime around 1970-1972. That’s the last he knew.”
AND NOW A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Those of us wont in private to wax poetic about the beauty and symmetry of [baseball] are wont to wax silent about it in public. The beauty and symmetry have been noted by everyone from John Updike to Bart Giamatti to Roger Angell.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on May 12, 1989.
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.