By the time the annual the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC for short, got underway, Vice President Mike Pence, the newly named “czar” leading the Trump administration’s fight against the coronavirus, let the lively crowd at the Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor know just what this gathering was about.
Sure, there was a looming, pretty much worldwide health crisis (not quite a pandemic), the coronavirus, on everyone’s doorstep, but Pence assured CPAC attendees that this was not going to be a panic-stricken call to arms. “I’m here for one reason and one reason only and that is, our movement, our party and America need four more years of President Donald Trump in the White House.”
He also said that a time like this was no time for partisanship, a theme that the president himself had echoed or presaged when he criticized Democrats for politicizing the health crisis, the scope and depth of which he had downplayed in an initial press briefing last week. Some supporters, notably radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, had hinted the coronavirus was a hoax or a plot to bring down the president.
Forgetting for a moment that suggesting that the atmosphere at a CPAC conference should be nonpolitical is the height (or depth) of irony, the boisterous gathering not far from our own doorsteps in Washington — it used to be held at the Sheraton, just down a ways from Adams Morgan — illustrated once again that in Washington, as in the country and the world, we are all in this together, only more so.
The president himself showed up at the gathering, once again wrapped his long arms around the flag as in Trump rallies of yore and bemoaned the wicked Democrats and other enemies and foes, real and not so real, as befits what was essentially a political rally.
In this administration, we have been living in the age of the simultaneous, with everything of note and of little note raining down on us, it seems, all of the time.
So it’s probably no surprise that as the coronavirus hung like a dark cloud over the world, and started to make its disheartening presence felt in the United States, it shared and hung like a threat and a project for the political world as well.
About the time that the president and vice president were trying to tamp down fears over a possible pandemic, and the stock market was taking a precipitous and shocking plunge almost on a daily basis, the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination process was lurching toward one of its many critical (they are all critical, so far) climaxes, with the South Carolina primary vote on Leap Day, Saturday, Feb. 29.
Since there had been a horribly messed up Iowa caucus, an indecisive New Hampshire primary and another caucus in Nevada, South Carolina — due to its relatively large size, place in American history and substantial African American Democratic vote — promised to be significant in the eyes of the media, for sure.
For sure, it was important to the thumping of the heart and hopes of Joe Biden, once a clear favorite, who last week was courting oblivion with the onrush of three victories on the part of Bernie Sanders, the hard-charging, shouting senator from Vermont.
It had come to this already, according to the media: if Bernie could make everyone feel the Bern and win, why, game practically over, because Super Tuesday was just around the corner, and then, gone with the wind.
Mind you, Sanders, who was a distant and miffed runner-up to Clinton in the haunting 2016 election, had won three states: the aforementioned deeply flawed Iowa caucus, neighboring New Hampshire and Nevada, considered a more ethnically representative state, most of its population residing in Las Vegas.
There had been numerous debates already, with notable departures like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, but also candidates still in the game, including the youthful “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg, progressive but not quite as progressive as Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, the affable and fit-to-fight Amy Klobuchar and the other billionaire Tom Steyer.
A beaming, fit-to-bust Biden won big, with 49 percent of the vote in South Carolina. Steyer, after finishing third with about 11.4 percent worth, promptly dropped out without much fanfare.
The looming coronavirus barely made a dent in the conversation, although it was surely on everyone’s mind, and in various tweets. The debate right off the bat became a kind of free for all, barely controlled by its ABC network hosts, where time seemed to be both valuable and wasted, so everyone talked at once.
Sanders — who was beaten up over his supposed admiration of Castro’s Cuba and how to pay for health care for all, with the S-word (socialism) tossed around — had none of it. He remained defiant like a man in the batter’s box, swatting away.
The result certainly saved Biden. God only knows what it did for the cause of super-billionaire Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, who time and again promised he could beat Trump, and threw a chunk of his fortune to finance his campaign. Too often, in his second debate, he seemed a little like a man peeved that he would have to go through the tortures of debating and being insulted.
Politics — of the debating and primary kind — shared the headlines with a disease that, if it was not rampant yet, would soon show up here. And it did, with the ominous death of a Washington state man in his 50s whose passing was deemed “communal” — which apparently meant how he got it was not yet known.
The D.C. area is peppered with violent death regularly and often, but the discussions in the city made us seem for once like everyone else.
We talked about the coronavirus. We talked about not going to crowded places. We talked about masks. We talked about Joe and Bernie and Mayor Pete and Mayor Mike. We talked about Super Tuesday. And somewhere in the back of our heads, we may have even thought of … Doomsday.
All this, simultaneously.
The quicksilver, shifting nature of our current political and media culture of simultaneousness has fulfilled itself very quickly.
That idea erupted risibly Sunday and today. Just hours after the writing of this story on Sunday afternoon, Mayor Pete announced that he was closing down his campaign, a campaign that had been historic, unprecedented in many ways and even saw him rise to the top tier of candidates.
A youthful 38, Buttigieg had made history by being the first openly gay presidential candidate, and he was credible throughout, although it had become obvious of late that his particular version of moderate Democratic politics could not quite leap to the top.
The announcement, with Super Tuesday just on the horizon, might change the dynamics of the race, and it stands to reason that many of Buttigieg’s followers may switch to Biden.
Even as the effects of Buttigieg’s departure began to seep in, news came yesterday and again today, March 2, that there had been two more deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus, in Washington state — and more expected elsewhere.
The deaths likely will contribute to the urgency now being felt here, and no longer made the Trump administration’s early efforts to soothe or downplay the effects of coronavirus seem so viable. Further repercussions on Wall Street may also occur.
Yes, Super Tuesday is tomorrow, but it appears that we’re now in Super-Simultaneous Monday.