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Wake Up To Politics - October 30, 2020

It’s Friday, October 30, 2020. Election Day is four days away. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

In today’s newsletter: A Q&A with “West Wing” star Bradley Whitford about the show’s recent reunion, the overlap between television and politics, and more.

Friday Roundup

Coronavirus: “The United States, which reported its first known coronavirus case in Washington State 282 days ago, surpassed nine million total infections on Thursday, including more than half a million in the past week, as Covid-19 spiraled out of control in the lead-up to Election Day,” the New York Times reports.

“Across the country, alarming signs suggested the worst was yet to come: The nation reported more cases on Thursday — at least 89,000 — than on any other single day. More than 20 states reported more cases over the past week than at any time during the pandemic. Patients were sent to field hospitals in El Paso and the Milwaukee suburbs. Growing outbreaks led to new restrictions on businesses in Chicago. Exactly zero states reported sustained declines in cases.”

  • “On virus, Trump and health advisers go their separate ways” (Associated Press)

Turnout surge: “Data on early voters and recent polling suggest eligible voters under 30 could break their historic 2008 turnout, when it peaked at 48 percent when Barack Obama was elected as president. New data suggest they may be on track to sustain their dramatic turnout in the 2018 midterms, when they more than doubled their rate of voting compared to the prior midterm election,” the Washington Post reports.

“The higher early turnout is somewhat expected, given the particularly low turnout by young voters in 2016 and the overall surge in interest in alternative voting options because of the novel coronavirus. But it underscores the many ways that this typically unreliable voting bloc has been galvanized into greater political and electoral engagement, and is especially noteworthy given the unique barriers to voting during a pandemic that has displaced many of them from their homes or college campuses, researchers say.”

  • At least 79.1 million ballots have already been cast nationwide, about 57% of total turnout from 2016. The most early votes — 8.4 million (or 93% of the state’s total 2016 votes) — have been cast in Texas, as the state grows increasingly competitive on the presidential level.

In the courts: “A divided federal appeals court ruled Minnesota’s extended deadline for receiving absentee ballots is likely unconstitutional, and it ordered the state to segregate late-arriving ballots for possible disqualification,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The 2-to-1 ruling by the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals casts a cloud over voting rules that allowed for the counting of Minnesotans’ mailed-in ballots received up to a week after the election, so long as they were postmarked by Election Day. The court issued a preliminary order to hold those later ballots separate while legal proceedings on the deadline continue.”

  • “Trump and Biden teams prep for once-outlandish election standoffs” (Politico)


Bradley Whitford looks back on “The West Wing”

The actors of “The West Wing” reunited this month for a special benefiting When We All Vote, the voter registration group founded by former First Lady Michelle Obama.

It was just the latest dip into real-life politics for the all-star cast, whose decades-ago portrayal of a fictional White House continues to have reverberations in the political sphere today. I discussed the reunion, and criticisms of the show’s impact on politics, with actor Bradley Whitford in a recent interview.

Whitford played White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman in the idealistic political drama and now stars in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the dystopian series on Hulu. (“So my career’s sort of tracking the trajectory of American politics,” he joked.) An excerpt from the interview, which was edited for length and clarity, is below; the full Q&A can be found here.  

After the reunion, a reviewer in the Washington Post said that “the last thing America needs right now is more ‘West Wing.’ ” They wrote that the show was a “pipe dream” where “centric principles almost always triumph over politics.” How do you respond to that kind of criticism?

First of all, something that’s interesting to me is you can make a movie or a TV show that is cynical and violent and snarky, and you can get away with a lot that’s wrong with it, and people will go with it. When you do something that is not attempting to be snarky, but is attempting to be aspirational, you will absolutely get shit for it.

I don’t think our show should be taken seriously politically. I think it should be seriously in terms of taking [the themes of the show, such as] public service and the consequences of public service seriously. The right understands that politics and governance is the way you create your moral vision. They pretend that they hate government, but they understand that. And if they lose an election, they start a think tank and they run for the school board. [Progressives] lose an election, we say “the system’s corrupt” and we walk away.

We don’t understand that government is the way you create your moral vision. We think it’s the stuff that I do: culture. And culture is really, really important. But, you know, “Will and Grace” won’t help you if you have a preexisting condition. You have to get a law passed.

There are some, though, who say that progressive movement in America was actually set back by “The West Wing.” Vox asked last year whether the show “broke the Democratic Party.” Some critics on the left blame “The West Wing” for a more compromising, centrist style that they say some Democratic leaders practice.

Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t think the celebration of the non-cynical public servant does a lot of damage. It does if you think something is going to be as easy in real life as it is when it’s scripted.

You know, there's a horrible way for me to say this, and I don’t even think I can say it. I was raised Quaker and people would say, how do you defend nonviolence in the face of Nazis? Well, first of all, I blame the fucking Nazis. The fakest thing about West Wing was we had rational Republicans. What is going on now is unprecedented. But no, of course, you’re not going to watch a TV show and make that a model for a political party.

Do you think that people have?

No. And I don’t think that the show was advocating a strategy of caving in weakness. I do think that the values of television, the values of entertainment, invading politics, because public discourse happens on television, I do think that’s dangerous. Because it’s virtual. It’s not the same thing. Aaron [Sorkin, the creator of “The West Wing”] would not say, “yeah, this is how you should run a country.” Or, “yeah, this is how you could run a country.” We were pretending. Now, Donald Trump is abhorrent to me. But clearly, he’s made his life being on TV. He, for some people, seemed presidential. In the way [fictional president] Jed Bartlet seemed presidential, in the way that I seemed like someone who worked in the White House.

I love Martin Sheen [who played Bartlet] to death. He would be a better president than this, but that isn't saying much. I’ve made a bizarre, lucky life out of the fact that the relationship between seeming and being is casual. They’re not even dating. And that’s what scares me. And if “The West Wing” perpetuated that notion or that’s what people got out of it, I don’t think that was the point. But yes, that’s not helpful. I mean, Barack Obama would never have become president if he wasn’t good on TV. And believe me, it’s a pathetic skill that has very little to do with inherent value.

Read more from my Q&A with Bradley Whitford.

Today on the Trail

All times Eastern.

President Donald Trump will hold campaign rallies in Waterford Township, Michigan (1 pm), and Green Bay, Wisconsin (4 p.m.). He will also deliver remarks at a “peaceful protest” in Rochester, Minnesota (6:45 pm), in which only the first 250 people will be admitted, due to coronavirus restrictions in the state.

  • Vice President Mike Pence will campaign in Arizona, holding rallies in Flagstaff (2:05 pm) and Tucson (4:30 pm).
  • Second Lady Karen Pence will hold a campaign event in Wilton, New Hampshire (12:30 pm).
  • Eric Trump will campaign in North Carolina, holding events in Ellerbe (4:30 pm) and Elizabethtown (7 pm).
  • Lara Trump will hold a campaign event in Raleigh, North Carolina (10 am).

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will hold drive-in events in Des Moines, Iowa, and St. Paul, Minnesota (4:45 pm). He will also deliver remarks in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (7:30 pm).

  • Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will campaign in Texas, holding events in Fort Worth (1:45 pm), McAllen (5:25 pm), and Houston (8:35 pm). She will be joined in McAllen by former HUD Secretary Julián Castro and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
  • Dr. Jill Biden will hold a rally with the leaders of the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (5 pm).
  • Doug Emhoff will campaign in Nevada, holding a drive-in rally with Rep. Susie Lee in Henderson (3:45 pm) and a canvas kick-off with Rep. Dina Titus in Las Vegas (5 pm).

Libertarian presidential nominee Jo Jorgenson will hold a rally (5:30 pm) and a meet and greet (7 pm) in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Today in Washington

All times Eastern.

The Senate will meet at 12 pm for a pro forma session.

The House will meet at 10 am for a pro forma session.

The Supreme Court is not in session.

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