Charlie Gerow and Mark Singel get it.
This week in their side-by-side columns in the Harrisburg Patriot-News, the main newspaper for the Pennsylvania state capital area, Republican Gerow and Democrat Singel drew a perfect illustration of exactly what COVID-19 has done to the 2020 presidential election campaign. (Full disclosure, I am a long-time friend of Charlie Gerow, the head of his Harrisburg PR firm Quantum Communications, the author of a well-read “Daily Breakfast Briefing,” and a longtime Pennsylvania GOP strategist. I have met Mark Singel but a couple times over the years. Mark is the former Democratic lieutenant governor of the state. The two also appear every Sunday on CBS-21’s “Face the State” television show.)
Here are the headlines for their respective columns.
For Republican Gerow:
China should bear a lot of the blame in the coronavirus’ spread throughout the world
For Democrat Singel:
Racism is not a legitimate campaign strategy
In other words, to summarize, post-COVID the rest of the election year is going to boil down to a contest between two very different narratives: Trump or China?
Among Charlie’s points were these:
Let’s face the obvious facts first. The Chinese Communist Party lies. They cheat. They steal.
The Chinese communist government is one of the most repressive and brutal in the history of the world.
Chairman Mao, the father of the Chinese Communist Party and still their patron saint, was the biggest mass murderer in history. The savagery he unleashed on his own people resulted in more than 65 million deaths, far surpassing what Joe Stalin or Adolph Hitler did.
After more detailed history about the role of the Chinese Communist Party in history — none of it good — Charlie concludes,
The impact of all this on the 2020 presidential campaign is significant. Who can best deal with China will be a critical question asked as we return to normal and the campaign for the White House restarts.
President Trump has a clear message on the issue of how we should deal with the Chinese communists. Joe Biden does not. That’s the politics of it.
But, there are still those who refuse to demand accountability from the Chinese, who ask us to ignore [what] they’ve done, to look the other way or even to make excuses for them. That’s the tragedy of it.
In other words, Charlie is not blaming the Chinese people in the least for what has happened. He is decidedly blaming the real source of the problem — the Chinese Communist Party. Two very, very different things, as the Chinese people themselves are forced to live daily under the communist thumb. As an example of the latter, over here at, of all places, NPR radio, is host Scott Simon illustrating the point exactly. Said Simon late last year:
We’re learning more about the chilling moves by China against Uighur people. It’s been happening in the Xinjiang region in northwestern China. Uighurs are a Muslim minority. China has rounded up a million and imprisoned them in camps. Now the Uighur Human Rights Project reports that the Chinese government has destroyed more than 100 mosques.
And let’s not forget that before the virus dominated attention the CCP government was in the news for its crackdown on the Hong Kong freedom movement.
Meanwhile, Democrat Singel has another narrative altogether. A narrative that, summarized, is simple: Trump Did It.
After highlighting an attack on an American woman of Asian descent and suggesting that to label the virus the “Wuhan virus” is racist, Mark says, in part, this:
Translation: let us shift our attention away from the bungling performance of the president and send the marching order to our base: “Blame the Chinese.” As the death toll in America reaches 100,000 and the unemployment rate approaches 30 percent, the president’s enablers will propose all kinds of conspiracies and launch attacks to mask the collapse of leadership coming from the White House.
What Gerow and Singel have pinpointed exactly is the seismic shift the virus has now caused in the 2020 election. Pre-virus, America was experiencing a fairly typical presidential election cycle with the eternal quadrennial debate about the state of the economy at its center. As candidate Ronald Reagan once posed to Americans in his 1980 debate with then-President Jimmy Carter, this became, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” In 1992, Clinton campaign guru James Carville famously summed it up as “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Americans — and indeed the world — are now living in a post-COVID world. The crisis, which has now killed almost 100,000 Americans and literally shut down the American economy, is still ongoing and conceivably will be here for the entire rest of the year and beyond as the rest of the looming Trump–Biden showdown emerges. But, as said, what Charlie and Mark have just vividly illustrated is that the rest of this election is going to boil down to two competing narratives. “Trump did it” versus “China did it.”
Indeed, as this is written the Trump-supporting America First super-PAC is airing a Pennsylvania-specific commercial that attacks Biden over his record on China. The commercial was written up in the Philadelphia Inquirer and is linked in the article, found here. The Inquirer reports this way:
A super-PAC supporting President Donald Trump’s reelection started airing new TV commercials in Pennsylvania last week portraying Joe Biden as weak on China — part of an effort to damage the presumptive Democratic nominee’s standing in key battleground states.
Similar commercials are targeting Michigan and Wisconsin, among other battleground states, each crafted for the specific state involved.
And on the Democratic side, issuing her own version of Mark Singel’s point, here is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as headlined in the Daily Caller:
Pelosi Calls President Trump’s China Criticism A ‘Diversion’
The story begins:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped President Donald Trump on Thursday over his criticism of China’s coronavirus response, calling it a “diversion.”
“Let me just say that what the President is saying about China is interesting. It’s an interesting diversion,” Pelosi said. “Right now our focus should be on meeting the needs of the American people.”
Over in the Senate, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer took this tack, saying of Trump:
Even if [coronavirus] came from China, why didn’t you do something about it?
In other words, as with Singel and Pelosi, Schumer is focused on a “blame Trump” narrative.
For those of us of, ahem, a certain age, this new debate has echoes of a very old debate. Note well, again, Charlie’s focus on the Chinese Communist Party. Once upon a time in post-World War II America, as the Cold War took off, Democrats were accused of being “soft on communism.” One event after another unfolded over the ensuing decades that had this or that Democrat pictured as having sympathies for the Soviet communists. To name a few:
This theme of some — but not all — Democrats being “soft on communism” existed for the entire Cold War. It flared with the left-wing protests of the Vietnam War and the anti-war candidacy of 1972 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. George McGovern. In the Reagan era of the 1980s, it centered on the rise of the “nuclear freeze” movement. Indeed, just this year there was Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination and saying this of Cuba’s communist leader Fidel Castro:
When Fidel Castro first came into power … you know what he did? He initiated a major literacy program. It was a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate and he formed the Literacy Brigade … and they went out and they helped people learn to read and write. You know what? I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing.
Castro, like Mao, was a tyrant who murdered countless Cubans in his communist dictatorship. Brutality is a feature of communism, not a bug in the system.
Which is what makes Charlie Gerow’s listing of the brutal history of the Chinese Communist Party so telling. Like myself, Charlie is a Reagan alumnus and well recalls this warning from President Reagan, a dedicated anti-communist warrior, in 1981. As it happens I wrote up Reagan’s 1981 warning on the Soviet communists only the other day in this space, and reminded that his wisdom then was relevant to today’s dealing with the Chinese communists. Said the president (bold print supplied):
Well, so far détente’s been a one-way street that the Soviet Union has used to pursue its own aims. I don’t have to think of an answer as to what I think their intentions are; they have repeated it. I know of no leader of the Soviet Union since the revolution, and including the present leadership, that has not more than once repeated in the various communist congresses they hold their determination that their goal must be the promotion of world revolution and a one-world socialist or communist state, whichever word you want to use.
Now, as long as they do that and as long as they, at the same time, have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain that, and that is moral, not immoral, and we operate on a different set of standards, I think when you do business with them, even at a détente, you keep that in mind.
Substitute “Chinese Communist Party” for “Soviet Union,” and Charlie’s point is plain to see.
It takes very little to see that the Trump argument going down the 2020 road is that old, gullible, Sleepy Joe Biden is “soft” on the Chinese communists, just as some of his party ancestors were soft on the Soviet communists. Indeed, there is Biden in that aforementioned pro-Trump commercial saying of the CCP that “they’re not bad folks.”
Then there is — as always with the Left — the race card playing. As I noted in this space earlier in the week, CBS’s White House correspondent Weijia Jiang did exactly that in an exchange with the president in a Rose Garden press conference. When Trump responded to her question about global competition on virus testing he said, “Maybe that’s a question you should ask China. Don’t ask me, ask China that question, okay?”
In a blink, Jiang, whose parents departed China and brought her to America at two year old and is long an American citizen raised in West Virginia, took offense. As if Trump, who campaigned on the China trade deal question and the role of China internationally, were a racist for saying it. Mark Singel says this episode was “nasty” and “personal” — and I would respectfully disagree. The Democratic Party was built on race card playing — supporting slavery, then segregation, and now the son of segregation, identity politics. And identity politics is exactly what reporter Jiang was playing with her snarky, racial response.
This is what is also at play in protesting that calling the virus the “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese virus” is somehow racist. In fact, as I have mentioned previously, it has been standard practice over the decades — as verified with a look at the World Health Organization website — to name global diseases for their place of geographic location. From Lyme disease to the Marburg virus and Ebola (successively a town in Connecticut, another in Germany, and a river in Africa) and so many others, this is standard practice. Race has zero to do with it.
There is also one more interesting, not to mention ironic, feature of Democrats seeking to avoid blaming China for the virus. What is one of the biggest constituency groups in the modern Democratic Party? That would be, of course, the trial bar. Lawyers. Reported Fox News a few years back:
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2014, 97 percent of political contributions from the nation’s leader (sic) trial lawyers association went to Democrats.
And what are a lot of trial bar types in America gearing up for as we speak? Here’s a sample headline from U.S. News & World Report:
Lawsuit: China Hid Virus Information, Should Pay Billions
A lawyer who represented victims of the Las Vegas shooting massacre has filed a federal lawsuit over the coronavirus, seeking class-action damages from China for 32 million U.S. small businesses.
And here is another headline, this one from the UK Sun:
COVID ‘COVER-UP’ US lawyers sue China for TRILLIONS for ‘allowing virus outbreak to erupt before covering its tracks’
In other words? The more Democrats like Pelosi and Schumer insist that blaming the Chinese government for the virus is a “diversion” — they will be undercutting one of their major constituencies that is busy insisting … as is Trump … that the Chinese government must be held accountable for the spread of the virus and sued for — yes indeed — trillions.
In the world of political punditry lots is written and said that un-memorably vanishes in the ether. But in this case, what Charlie Gerow and Mark Singel have done here is to very astutely put their finger on the new dueling narratives competing in the 2020 election. Narratives unimagined as the New Year dawned.
The victory of one narrative over another will determine who wins not just the battleground state of Pennsylvania but the election itself. Not to mention guide whatever is to come in America’s relationship with China.