Swing State Pres

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

BTRTN: Pelosi Reveals Her Trump Card. Now Will She Play It?


Nancy Pelosi is withholding forwarding the House-approved articles of impeachment to the Senate until Mitch McConnell releases the official rules for the impeachment trial. It appears to be a classic stand-off, seemingly with little incentive for either side to budge. Or is it genius?

Until last week, it seemed like the Democrats might be bungling the impeachment of Donald Trump.

Then Nancy Pelosi showed her trump card, announcing that she simply was not going to forward the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate until Mitch McConnell clarifies the rules. That one elegant move on her part could solve many of the issues that seemed problematic about the Democrats' approach to impeachment...depending on whether she plays her card, and how she does it.  
 
It had long been clear that Nancy Pelosi was very wary of impeachment. When she finally realized that she had to do it, it appeared that she wanted to get it over with as fast as possible, thereby inflicting the least damage on Donald Trump.  All she wanted to do was check a box and move on.

Don’t get me wrong: I never have dreamed for even an instant that the Senate was ever going to vote to convict and remove Donald Trump from the Presidency. I have my occasionally flights of idealistic fancy, but I am not delusional.

But I had hoped that the Democrats would view the impeachment of Donald Trump as an opportunity to present the full portrait of a wildly corrupt and lawless Presidency that was hell-bent on destroying our system of Constitutional democracy. I felt that Democrats should use impeachment to inflict as much damage on Donald Trump’s reputation as possible, to weaken his chances for re-election. 

And, yes, call me an idealist, but I felt that the Democrats owed it to the people they serve to pursue justice fully and wholly -- to identify, investigate, and prosecute all high crimes and misdemeanors -- rather than carve out a narrow subset of misdeeds that could be put forward because they were politically amenable to all Democrats in swing districts.

Early on, Nancy Pelosi frequently commented that it was pointless to pursue impeachment if the general population was not behind the idea. This notion was always grating, as it implied that she was being guided by polling data instead of principle. Moreover, this perspective on impeachment was an abdication, conveniently ignoring that it was very much her job – and that of all the Democrats and the press -- to educate the population about the clear and present danger than Donald Trump represented to the people.

Pelosi refused to bite when the Mueller Report essentially concluded that it was the responsibility of her House to act on the obvious instances of obstruction of justice chronicled in the 400 page report. Instead, she ducked, and let William Barr’s disgraceful perversion of the report’s findings stand as the definitive word in the public square.

In fact, Speaker Pelosi did not favor impeachment even after the full picture of the Ukraine scandal became clear. She only turned when seven freshmen Congressional Representatives who served in the military or intelligence stuck their necks out in an Op-Ed and advocated for impeachment. Only when impeachment-shamed by these swing-district vulnerable Representatives did Pelosi get on the bus.
 
It appeared that her fundamental belief was that any protracted or overly complicated impeachment process would inevitably backfire, causing the voting population to grow weary with conflict and ultimately turn on the Democrats as the cause. A perfectly fair concern: such a backfire could result in the Democrats losing their vitally important House majority in the 2020 election.

And yet when she finally turned in favor of impeachment, it was again disappointing. She insisted on the narrowest possible articles of impeachment, and seemed to want to race through the process, hoping that the Senate would finish the inevitable acquittal as quickly as possible. In my view, all that a “fast and narrow impeachment” would accomplish would be to allow Donald Trump to scream from the rooftop that he had been "exonerated" and "vindicated" for six full months leading up to the election.

I felt that Democrats would have been much better served to follow a far slower and more deliberate path, one in which a full array of articles of impeachment might have been explored and considered. As long as there continued to be new revelations and the possibility of new witnesses, there seemed to be no reason to arbitrarily call the process to an end. As long as the entire matter was in the House, Pelosi controlled the clock. She had to right to let the cases build, and even delay the actual vote on impeachment until weeks before the election. By that theory, the goal would be to stamp Trump with the Scarlet Letter of impeachment, but allow no time for the Senate to give him his “vindication” and “exoneration” before the election.

A “slow impeachment” seemed far more calibrated to inflict heavy damage Trump’s re-election bid. Like a hurricane that stops in its tracks, hovering over a tiny island, wreaking carnage over and extended period, an impeachment inquiry that extended well into 2020 would continually pummel Trump's reputation as new evidence came to light.

But this much I knew: the minute the Senate acquitted Trump, then the entire subject of impeachment was over. Much like the way Barr shut down the Mueller report, an impeachment "acquittal" from the Senate would free Trump. He would know that the country would have no stomach for another round of impeachment. He would crow about his "vindication," and proclaim that the acquittal was proof that the "Deep State" had been on a "witch hunt" to perform and "illegal coup" designed to overturn the results of the 2016 election. Trump would be free to meddle in the 2020 election with impunity. 

Why rush the process towards that acquittal?

I did not understand the virtue of carving out just two narrow articles of impeachment when a powerful case could be made for five. In addition to the two articles that were approved – one on “abuse of power,” and a second on “obstruction of Congress” – the Democrats had the option to include articles on (1) violation of election financing law, when Micheal Cohen fingered Trump as "individual one" (2) repeated, brazen violations of the Emoluments Clause for his use of his office for personal financial gain, and (3) the epic obstruction of justice meticulously chronicled in the second half of the Mueller Report. 

Having simply the two articles of impeachment allows Republicans to frame the first article of impeachment as "one phone call," and the second as a test of his right to refuse to allow Executive branch employees to respond to Congressional subpoenas. These make the issues seem small and narrow, particularly when Republicans can argue that the Democrats never waited for a Supreme Court ruling on the matter of Congressional subpoenas. They would argue that Democrats did not avail themselves of the true Constitutional remedy in a dispute between two branches of government... and they would have a good point.

Five broader articles of impeachment would properly frame the impeachment as a case of flagrant, repeated, widespread malfeasance over a long period of time by a President who has no respect for the Constitution.

Do not misunderstand: I am not saying that more articles of impeachment would cause the Senate to convict. I am saying that five articles of impeachment would have accurately portrayed how this President has disgraced the office of the Presidency, and would have been far more damaging to his reputation, badly bruising him as he seeks re-election.

A further advantage of a “slow impeachment” strategy? This may well have afforded the opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule on the issue of whether it was unconstitutional for Donald Trump to forbid Executive Branch employees from responding to Congressional subpoenas. The Democrats specifically chose to render the Supreme Court moot on this matter by racing ahead with Articles of Impeachment.

The Democrats’ rationale for not going to the Courts was always that it would allow Trump to “run out the clock,” as the Court decision could well be delayed until after the 2020 election. More recently, they argued that a fast impeachment was necessary so that Trump could not interfere further in the 2020 election.

Given these two very reasonable arguments for fast action, it is puzzling why the Democrats did not take some measure to ask the Supreme Court to make an expedited ruling on the issue of whether Executive Branch employees must comply with Congressional subpoenas. Indeed, it was precisely the implementation an expedited ruling by the Supreme Court in 1974 that forced Richard Nixon to release the Watergate tapes.

The Democrats should have done everything in their power to put the issue of Executive Branch subpoenas in front of the Supreme Court… even if the process took us well into 2020. Why? A Supreme Court ruling had no downside… and all upside:

--If the Supreme Court were to rule in Trump’s favor on this issue, then sure, Nancy, go back to plan “A” and go for a “fast exit impeachment.” There would of course be no testimony from Bolton, Barr, and the gang… but that’s exactly what is happening now.

--But if the Supreme Court were to rule that Pompeo, McGahn, Barr, Bolton, McGahn, and Mulvaney must testify before Congress, then we would have an entirely new ballgame.
 
One of two things would happen. Either (1) those five men would  have to testify under oath, which would be certain to unearth revelations about Trump’s involvement in Ukraine that would further damage his reputation, or (2), Trump would try to defy both Congress and the Supreme Court… by continuing to refuse to allow his lieutenants to testify under oath.

While I would never bet on the integrity or conscience of Lindsey Graham or Mitch McConnell, they both know that if Donald Trump defied a direct order of the Supreme Court and Congress, then our system of government is effectively dead. Even Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell would have to think that one over long and hard.

Most important? The prospect of live testimony from these Trump officials would make for the kind of "must see tv" that has been utterly lacking in the Trump impeachment to date. Bolton on national television promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Forcing these witnesses to appear before the Senate is pure gold for creating the type of near-universal attention that could terribly damage Trump as we turn toward the 2020 Presidential election.

Two final comments on the advantages of a “slow” impeachment:

1. As is becoming apparent in his Mara Lago ravings of this past week, Donald Trump craves an acquittal in the Senate. He is intensely agitated at the impeachment, and is desperate to put it behind him with a Senate acquittal. A slow impeachment would deny Trump that satisfaction for months… if not entirely.

2. Perhaps most important of all: there are new revelations coming out every day! The stunning reporting in Monday's New York Times shows just how much we still have to learn about Trump's controlling role in the Ukraine scandal. Why shut this down now?

In short, there are many, many reasons to favor a “slow impeachment” over Nancy Pelosi’s supersonic version. And as of last week, I feared that all those reasons had been ignored simply because Pelosi wanted a fast exit. She appeared hell-bent on a rapid, narrow impeachment designed simply to ensure that Trump would forever bear the stain of impeachment, but the cost was clear: within weeks, Trump would be acquitted by the Senate, and he would have it all behind him. He would be free to declare victory.

Then, everything changed.

Perhaps it was Mitch McConnell’s brazen contempt for his constitutional duty when he declared he was "coordinating his efforts with the White House," and his sickening statement that he had no intention of being an "unbiased juror," despite an oath he must take to be exactly that.

Is it possible that Nancy Pelosi actually thought all of this through, and all along knew that she had one magnificent Trump card left to play?

Or was just a wonderful last-minute realization?

But suddenly, out of nowhere, Nancy Pelosi dropped a twenty megaton turd on McConnell’s parade. 

I must admit that I certainly did not know that Nancy Pelosi had the Constitutional right to refuse to forward House-approved Articles of Impeachment to the Senate.

But this power – which she now wields – is stunning.

She knows that Donald Trump desperately craves the outcome of a Senate trial. That he cannot wait for the trial to be complete so that he can go on Fox News and hundreds of rallies and scream to the rafters that he has been “exonerated” and “vindicated,” and that he was right all along that the “Deep State” was pursuing a “coup” to undo the 2016 election.

Trump craves this.

And now he suddenly is confronted with the fact that Nancy Pelosi can withhold this.

Suddenly, he realizes that she can deny him the one thing he most urgently seeks. 

How ironic. Nancy Pelosi is holding the Trump card.

If she never forwards the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate, there is no trial. No acquittal. No exoneration. No celebration. No six months of spiking the football.

In short, Nancy Pelosi now actually does have the ability to gain many of the advantages of a "slow impeachment," without having to wait for the Supreme Court to rule on whether Executive branch officials must comply with Congressional subpoenas. 

Will she play it?

How will she play it?

My heavens, I hope that Nancy Pelosi stands firm and refuses to send over those articles until Mitch McConnell formally agrees that there must be public sworn testimony by all of Barr, Mulvaney, Pompeo, McGahn, and Bolton.

Polls show that 70% of the American people believe that there should be witnesses in the trial.

I’ve heard some liberals worry because a few Constitutional scholars have claimed that Trump will not have been technically “impeached” until Pelosi delivers the Articles to the Senate.  Fine, Nancy. That means that you just wait until January of next year. Then send them.

But in the meantime, you hold the Trump card.

You can force the testimony of Trump’s five henchmen without going to the Supreme Court to test his ability to prevent Executive Branch officials from complying with Congressional subpoenas. 

Sure, a trial with witnesses would mean that the Republicans can extract their pound of flesh. If Dems can call witnesses, so can Republicans… and they’d be sure to call Joe and Hunter Biden, and try to tar the validity of the impeachment by subpoenaing Adam Schiff. That exchange is worth it to get Bolton testifying on national television.

All that said, Nancy Pelosi has triggered an extremely high stakes game.

She cannot have issued the threat to withhold the articles without being willing to follow through on it. No matter how long. 

And this may be the most crucial point: the notion of a "fair trial" is now being equated with witness testimony. Speaker Pelosi has made a de facto threat that she will not release the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate unless McConnell allows for witness testimony.

If she does not follow through on that demand, this will all have been empty posturing.

But if she holds her ground, we either get a trial with witnesses, or Trump will never get his exoneration.

Heads Nancy wins, tails Trumps loses.

Yes, I’ve been critical of how the Democrats in general and Nancy Pelosi in particular have been playing this impeachment.

But if this was the game plan all along, then she is a genius. And if it was a last-minute insight, then it was one of the best single minutes of thinking we’ve seen in a very, very long time.

Hold your ground, Madame Speaker. Wield your Trump card. Do not send over those articles until you have the guarantee of witnesses. Trump is so eager to get exonerated that he may well cave in.

And if that is indeed how this plays out, all we can say is this: Well played, Speaker Pelosi. Well played




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Friday, December 20, 2019

BTRTN: Democrats Rip Into Each Other Competing to Prove Who is the Best Unifier


The first hour of last night’s debate was a fairly civil wonkfest, but Democrats can only refrain from unleashing their weapons of mass self-destruction for so long. On the debating merits, Amy Klobuchar won, but Steve wonders if the real conclusion is that everybody lost.

Oh, Democrats.

We’ve just been through one of the worst, most acrid, most bitterly divisive weeks in the history of the Republic. 

Americans appear weary of the incessantly shrill, biting hyperbole of partisan rhetoric, and are desperately hoping for a change. 

Democrats agree that more than anything, they simply want to know who can beat Donald Trump.

Who, they ask, is best able to unify and excite the Democratic Party?

Hey, let’s rip into each other to find out!!

Watch Elizabeth rip into Pete! Wait, Pete just took a not-so-subtle shot at Amy! Now Bernie is going after Joe!! Woah, look at Joe – he’s going right back at Bernie! Uh, oh, now Amy is going back at Pete!  

Let’s get ready to grummmmmmmble!!!

Call me crazy, but I really enjoyed Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer last night. They were remarkably calm, measured, and thoughtful. Unlike the professional politicians, they appeared statesmanlike. 

And those five “top tier” politicians?

On just the night when America may have looking to find who on the Democratic stage has the potential to restore our national pride, who could right this radically polarized ship, and who could bring our bitterly divided nation together, we got a lot of snotty, snippy, nastygrams launched sideways at other Democrats. Come on, people. We want to find out how big you can be, not how small you really are.

The fact is that this debate was relatively even, by the simple measure that everyone who has already made up their mind will tell you that their candidate hit it out of the park. They would be wrong, but they would say that. 

In fact, Amy Klobuchar turned in the strongest performance of the evening. She appeared more in command of the stage than the other candidates, at several points even stepping in to cool down a hot confrontation between other candidates… once between Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, and again for one between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. While many of the candidates couldn’t wait to pivot questions into familiar talking points, Klobuchar was more “in the moment,” thinking on her feet and seizing the opportunity rather than the threat in each question.  

Klobuchar appears ever more steady, comfortable, and in command on the stage, and her use of humor is growing ever more deft. Klobuchar was the most effective in beating up on Pete Buttigieg, who was clearly the main target for the evening. At one point, Klobuchar took him to take for his criticism the “100 years of Washington experience” of his rivals in the last debate. Klobuchar looked like the bigger person for taking the moment to laud the D.C. accomplishments of other candidates. Her darts at Mayor Pete were more subtle but nevertheless more effective than Elizabeth Warren’s blunt instrument bashing.

Considering that Pete Buttigieg was everybody’s bullseye tonight, he did a good job, but he took some hits. Allowing Buttigieg to be lured into a “wine cave” for a fundraiser was a terrible decision by Mayor Pete’s campaign. The optics were ghastly, and Elizabeth Warren went for the jugular on it. Unfortunately, the Massachusetts Senator has not learned the most basic rule of this campaign season: do not go directly at Pete Buttigieg unless you are ready to bleed. He is one of the most effective counter-punchers in Presidential debate history. 

As effective as Klobuchar was, she too, was punished for pouncing on Pete. When she dissed Pete for his past election failures, he responded: 

“Senator, I know that if you got my vote totals, maybe what goes on in my city seems small to you. If you want to talk about my capacity to win, try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80 percent of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence’s Indiana.” Drop the mic, Pete. Boom!
 
Elizabeth Warren paid dearly for taking on Mayor Pete. The Massachusetts Senator has an impassioned rhetorical style that can scream “holier than thou,” but it is always the holiest who must be wary of casting the first stone. When Warren went after Buttigieg with a laser gun on the issue of his willingness to take money from coastal billionaires, Mayor Pete simply held up a mirror, reminding Warren that she had transferred money from her Senatorial campaign funds to her Presidential campaign war chest… and that during her Senate campaign had accepted plenty of money from wealthy donors. “This is important,” Pete hissed. “This is the problem with purity tests that you cannot yourself pass.” Warren had no way to deny the charge, and no logical retort. It was her biggest television moment of the night, and it boomeranged very badly.

Bernie Sanders has developed a terrible habit of pivoting every possible question on every possible topic into one of his shrieking shrink-wrapped scripted sound-bytes. Some pivots are elegant and some are clumsy, but all serve the essential function of reinforcing his own base without saying anything new enough to attract voters away from other candidates. It is possible that the worst possible situation is developing for the progressive wing of the party: it is becoming equally divided between Sanders and Warren, with neither able to pull convincingly ahead of the other. With neither decisively grasping the upper hand, the progressive wing is itself weakened by division.

Oh, yes, Joe Biden was on the stage, too. Here’s the good news: no gaffes. Not one. Also good news: there was little of the “madcap Joe” of prior debates, the Biden who frequently launched punctuation-challenged sentence fragments that morphed from topic to topic in mid-flight, all plummeting to earth as just so much sound and fury signifying nothing.

Here’s the bad news: no one was paying much attention to Biden. Not even the moderators. When you are a former Vice President of the United States who is the leading candidate in all the national polls, and your competitors appear to be focusing all their energy on damaging the 37 year-old major of a small midwestern city, you have to wonder about the power of your candidacy. Sooner or later, Joe has to win a debate, and it did not happen again last night. Yet again on the debate stage, Joe Biden looked like he was seeking the nomination of the Low-T Party.

To slightly amend the earlier statement: Amy Klobuchar turned in the strongest performance among the truly viable candidates. The unflappable Andrew Yang was superb in this debate, and he remains on the stage even as supposedly stronger candidates like Harris, Booker, O’Rourke, and Castro have disappeared. Yang is consistently able to articulate underlying causes for societal problems that make his unconventional solutions appear creative and plausible. But time is running out for him to bust his way into the top tier candidates, and once the primary voting starts, there will be no room for also-rans.

Similarly, Tom Steyer turned in a strong debate performance. He is articulate, informed, and as passionate as a six-foot billionaire WASPy white guy gets. But time is ticking for him, too. By February, the billionaire lane will only have enough room for one guy, and it sure seems like it’s gonna belong to Mike Bloomberg. 

The disappointment of the night, however, was the missed opportunity. 

Someone, at some point, right in the midst of the intense rancor could have turned to the camera and said this: 

“My fellow Americans, I was just singled out for attack by my colleague on the stage tonight, and I have a well-rehearsed snappy retort that everyone expects me to fire back. But I think that after the week we just saw in Washington, you are tired of listening to politicians ripping into each other, questioning each other’s motives, principles, and integrity. After this week, I don’t think you are interested in seeing whether we are capable of tearing our opponents apart. I think you want to know who is capable of bringing us together.”  

Last night Amy won that dimension of this debate that was simply a petty internecine battle, and it will certainly help her campaign.

But no one saw the forest for the trees. No one saw the opportunity in the moment to seize the mantle of unifier. 

In that regard, it was an opportunity squandered. In that regard, everyone lost.

Here's our scorecard:

Winner:
Klobuchar

Better than expected:
Yang
Steyer

Mixed: Took some hits, scored some hits, but net negative for the night:
Buttigieg

Needed to accomplish more than they actually did:
Biden
Sanders
Warren 

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Wednesday, December 18, 2019

BTRTN: GOP Impeachment Mantra -- "What Does the President Want, and How Quickly Can I Get It For Him?”


Tom’s thoughts on the impeachment debates.

It’s 8:52 PM Eastern time and the House of Representatives just voted to impeach President Trump on the second article of impeachment, having adopted the first article 18 minutes before.

I watched most of the debate leading up to the historic moment.   About the only thing the two parties agreed on in this uber-exercise in polarization was that it was a sad day for our country. 

Each side claimed it was a sad day, but both sides willfully misrepresented why it was sad for them.

Democrats said it was sad because impeachment is a monumental step and no one wants to see it used.  That is true in the abstract, but not in this instance.  Almost all Democrats want Trump to be impeached, and were delighted that, after the fog of the Mueller investigation, Trump handed them the smoking gun that the American public, and even Republicans, could understand and act on.

But what was truly sad (and worse) for the Democrats was that their Republican colleagues failed to concede anything at all, not even that there was something wrong in the Ukraine fiasco.  Instead they lined up and denigrated the senior Trump administration officials who dared to tell the truth.

Republicans, on the other hand, said it was sad because the impeachment process was a “sham” with “no evidence” to support it.  But that’s not why it was actually a sad day for the GOP.

It was a sad day for the GOP because almost every member of the party knows that there was something horribly amiss with UkraineGate, but, in the face of their own political cowardice, they were powerless to do anything about it.  Some might have expected to be able to adopt a defense that made clear that Trump’s actions were indefensible, though not impeachable.  But Trump would not accept this; he made it clear that unconditional support for his “perfect” call was the only acceptable defense.  And he got it.  And that is sad, and they all know it.

Here are the reasons the Republicans gave for voting against the articles of impeachment:

·        “Because 63 million Americans voted for Trump.” (I guess the GOP did not care much for the 47 million who voted for Bill Clinton in 1996; and by this logic, if one is elected president, you cannot be impeached.  Dare I add, don’t the 65 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton have a say?  Most every one of them wants to see Trump not just impeached but convicted and also thrown in jail).

·        “Because Democrats simply don’t like Trump.”  (Of course that is true, but they did not impeach him despite despising him for nearly three years -- in fact they voted it down on three occasions, even after the obstruction charges identified by Mueller were handed to them in July.)

·        Because the economy is ‘strong,’ our borders are ‘safe,’ and Trump puts American ‘first’.“  (We can debate all of these points, but impeachment is not a report card on a presidency or policy, it is an indictment on a specific charge.)

·        “Because the impeachment was ‘politically driven’.”  (Actually, Nancy Pelosi wanted to avoid impeachment like the plague, and I’m certain she still wishes she could have avoided it; it is not a political winner in the swing states, and she knows it).

·        “Because there was no ‘quid pro quo’.”  (Twelve senior members of the Trump Administration, including his hand-picked point person for Ukraine policy, EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, testified that there was a quid pro quo – in fact that was exactly what Sondland said).

·        “Because no members of the GOP were going to vote for impeachment.”  (Ah, the glorious nature of circular logic – I’m not voting for the articles because I’m not voting for the articles!)

·        “Because the ‘evidence’ was ‘heresay’.”  (Debatable to begin with, but why not send the senior Trump officials to testify that their subordinates were somehow wrong?  Could it be because they then would have had to lie under oath, or incriminate the president?)

·        “Because the aid to Ukraine ultimately was released.”  (But only after the whistleblower came forward and blew the cover off the quid pro quo.)

·        “Because the process was a ‘sham’ and ‘flawed’.”  (The process was not materially different from Bill Clinton’s impeachment process, which he by and large cooperated with – as did Nixon.)

·        “Because Zelensky said he did not feel any pressure.”  (Let me get this straight, you think the victim, who still needs to curry favor to Trump to receive ongoing aid, is going to say anything to jeopardize the fate of his country?)

It was dispiriting, to say the least, to see these third-grade level arguments being put forward in 90-second bites by one GOP representative after another.  And it was stunning to see that almost every one of these representatives were white men, most of a certain age, most with a southern twang.  They forwarded other arguments as well in Trump’s defense, each less defensible than the one before.

What was amusing was watching Adam Schiff calmly and skillfully eviscerate these arguments immediately after each righteously indignant GOP man-child spoke. 

One wishes just one Republican had stood up and spoken the truth, the real reason for their blind devotion.

“Thank you Madame Chairman.  I am voting against the articles of impeachment because, if I voted for them, my political career would be over.  Donald Trump would make me disappear if I opposed him, or even suggested that that inane phone call was anything less than perfect.  Remember Jeff Flake?  Bob Corker?  I would be primaried by a Trumper and I would lose that primary.  I’ve had to support Trump down the line, and defended every stupid thing he has ever said or done, and now I’ve got to live with the 90% approval rating in our party.  Of course what Trump did to Zelensky was crazy stupid, but I’m not going buck him.  Hell, he’s right, if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, I’d argue it was for the good of the country.”

You would not fill a thimble if you added up the collective courage of Republicans in the House.  The only one who stood up to Trump, Justin Amash of Michigan, left the party months ago.

During Watergate, the definitive question – uttered by a member of the Nixon’s party – was: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”  The defining question for any Republican this time around is:  “What does the President want, and how quickly can I get it for him?”

We’ll soon see if the Senate does even one iota better.  We know they will acquit, but will they express some degree of chagrin?

Soon this will be over, an airtight case running up against a crooked jury.  And then we must act.  We must not only defeat Trump, we must take back the Senate and extend the Democrats’ hold on the House.  We’re going to have to do it the old-fashioned way, at the polls, and overcome the bile Trump will heap on our candidate, Russian dirty tricks, and ongoing voter suppression.  We have to overcome all of this.  And you have to ask yourself what you intend to do – beyond simply voting – to make that happen.

Monday, December 16, 2019

BTRTN 2020 Vision: Are Democrats Too Exhausted for Disrupters?


Tom with our BTRTN monthly feature on the 2020 Elections, with all the latest numbers and commentary.

THE LEAD

These are the main headlines for the past month of the 2020 presidential campaign, from mid-November to mid-December:

·        Two themes have emerged as the unsettled field continues to jockey back and forth:  do the Democrats need a “mental health break” – rather than radical disruptive change -- in the wake of Trump?  And…are the Democrats headed for a brokered convention?
 
·        Elizabeth Warren’s stall in November has led to a tumble in December.  The big-idea Massachusetts Senator’s support dropped markedly where it counts, in Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as nationally, with her “Medicare For All” pitch, with its $20-30 trillion price tag, now scaring more Dems than it has attracted.

·        Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders held up well this month, as Biden actually improved in Iowa and continued to lead comfortably in Nevada and South Carolina, and Sanders passed Warren to lead in the progressive lane.

·        Pete Buttigieg’s upward surge in Iowa and New Hampshire came to a halt, but he still commands a solid position there, and he also made modest progress in Nevada and South Carolina.

·        Can Amy Klobuchar play the tortoise in a field with no hares?  She is finally scoring in the polls as she travels the centrist lane in pragmatic, “aw shucks” fashion, hitting the 10% mark in the latest Iowa poll, continuing a material rise in her fortunes there.

·        The field narrowed to 16 with big name Kamala Harris suddenly suspending her once-promising but badly flagging effort, and two others dropping out as well.

·        And Mike Bloomberg’s money-saturated start has given him a foot in the door in California and Texas, but whether he can survive skipping the early four states (focusing instead on Super Tuesday) remains to be seen.  Meanwhile, there has been no sign of Deval Patrick since he entered, at least in the polls.


THE FIELD

The Democratic field lost three candidates in the last month, most notably Kamala Harris, who abruptly dropped out in the face of lack of funds and the reality that, since her takedown of Joe Biden in the first debate, she has headed steadily downhill in the polls.  Former Montana Governor Steve Bullock and former Pennsylvania Representative Joe Sestak also gave up their quixotic runs, so we are now at 16, still a remarkably unwieldy number at this juncture.  Happily, no one else has entered the race in the last month.

The Republican field, such as it is, remains at three, with Trump being nominally challenged by William Weld and Joe Walsh. 

The full fields as they stand now are summarized in the chart at the end of this article.


THE MONTH

As the impeachment inquiry grinds on in Washington, the nation seems less riveted and more exhausted.  The inquiry itself may be speedy by historical standards, but the numbing nature of the testimony, the public rancor of our elected officials and the ever-blasting tweet machine of our guilty-as-charged-but-nevertheless-much-aggrieved President have all contributed to a national stupor.  We talk of nothing else, and yet yearn, short-term, for any distraction and, long term, for a government we can calmly ignore as it goes about its business.

Is that what is happening to Elizabeth Warren?  Warren rocketed to the top over the first six months of her campaign, with an idea for everything and a detailed plan on how to restructure America.  But success breeds scrutiny, with scrutiny comes the questions, and it seems the biggest one was:  is this really the time for a structural revolution of American society?  Do we really want yet another “disruptor,” no matter how principled, well-intentioned and thorough Warren may be?  Or are the Democrats saying, in their recent turn away from Warren, that they prefer a quiet era of rebuilding under a familiar face – a Joe Biden, perhaps.  Or a new face with a calm demeanor and more incremental plans, such as Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar.

Pete Buttigieg is going through his own plateauing, and of course it remains to be seen whether, as with Warren, that is a precursor to a decline.  The South Bend mayor, who has enough issues in trying to attract the African-American vote, is now facing questioning around his time at uber-consulting giant McKinsey.  That firm (of which, in full disclosure, I am an alum) has faced an embarrassing set of headlines of its own in the past two years, and naturally Mayor Pete has downplayed that entry in his resume.  But, with the firm’s permission, he disclosed his client list from his time there, and hopes that will put an end to it.

As for Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, the two white-haired warriors have each bucked the odds (and their own sets of bad news) and remain not only viable in the race, but 1-2 in the national polls.  Biden retains a lock on his 30% national level of support, having withstood assaults on his track record on progressive causes, tepid turnouts at his events, less-than-sterling fundraising, and his own war with the English language.   Some large sub-segment of the party wants him: the moderate wing, those desiring stability and sure things, and those who seek the candidate best positioned to beat Trump.

Sanders has his wing as well, the Bernie-crazies who fell hard for him in 2016 and won’t give up.  Bernie survived a heart attack, of all things, which has proved, rather remarkably, to be a boon to both his health (with his new stent and eating and exercise habits) and his campaign.  He has regained the progressive lead over Warren nationally and in each of Iowa and New Hampshire, which is quite an accomplishment – especially since his agenda remains as radical as ever.  Somehow, though, he is getting more of a pass than Warren on his big ideas, which they largely share – as he relentlessly points out with respect to Medicare For All, he “wrote the damn bill.”  Bernie is back and solidly in the mix.

Amy Klobuchar got off to a difficult start to her campaign way back in February, with reports abounding that she was abusive to her Senate staff.  Her performance on the trail and in the early debates was as inspiring as a loaf of bread, and in the wake of Warren-mania she was lost in the small-idea centrist lane.  But she has been steady, landing the best blows on Warren in the debates, and with the scrutiny of Biden and Buttigieg now sees an opening in Iowa.

Barack Obama famously asks all candidates who come to him for advice if they can foresee a path to winning the nomination and the general election.  And by that he means a cold-eyed, reality-based, state-by-state tally of delegates and electors.  We don’t know whether Mike Bloomberg ever approached Obama for such a chat, but one can only imagine the look on the unflappable former president’s face when Bloomberg told him he was going to skip the first four states and spend like a drunken sailor on TV ads in Super Tuesday markets.  Imagine the slight widening of the eyes, the upturn of the brow, the barely perceptible frown.  Bloomberg spent $57 million on the race in his first 11 days in the race, including $3 million in California and $4 million in Texas (the two big Super Tuesday prizes).  For that effort he has garnered 5% of the polls in each, which actually is not that bad (leapfrogging all but the top four in each state) but hardly the numbers of a messiah.

As for the rest, it is hard to see any path or momentum.  Tom Steyer is now neither the richest nor most profligate candidate and, unlike Bloomberg, the ultimate centrist, he is a progressive.  Andrew Yang is hanging around in the polls (especially in New Hampshire) but his signature policy, the $1,000 a month gift to all Americans over 18 years of age, is not in the conversation.   Tulsi Gabbard also has some support in New Hampshire, but it’s a good bet that it is among the single-digit Trump supporters in the Democratic Party.  Cory Booker is all but gone, having failed to qualify for the next debate, ditto Julian Castro, who failed to make the stage last time.  We’ll give Deval Patrick a little more time to make a dent in either New Hampshire (a neighboring state for the former Massachusetts Governor) or South Carolina (and its African-American voter base).  And the 1% or less crew – Michael Bennet, John Delaney, Wayne Messam and Marianne Williamson – should have dropped out long ago.

The next debate is this coming Thursday night in Los Angeles, and the field of qualifiers is a more manageable group of seven:  Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, Warren and Yang.  It will be interesting to see who is targeted for attacks the most – perhaps back to Biden?  And can Steyer or Yang finally breakthrough when they are allotted more minutes of air time?

But the bottom line:  there are 49 days to go before the Iowa caucuses, and the race is wide, wide open. 


THE BROKERED CONVENTION

The "brokered convention" is a dreaded term among the old Dem pols.  What if the Democrats fail to unify behind a single candidate and enter the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on July 13, 2020 for their convention without a candidate commanding a majority of delegates?  The standard brokered convention scenario has Mayor Pete winning Iowa, Warren taking “home field” New Hampshire, Bernie’s army storming to victory in the ground-game driven Nevada caucus, and Joe Biden taking the African-American dominated South Carolina primary.  Then Mike Bloomberg garners some support on Super Tuesday and from there it’s a grind.  Key point:  the Democratic primaries are NOT “winner take all” and thus it is very difficult to amass delegates with multiple candidates owning segments of support.  Typically one needs 15% of the vote to earn delegates, and one can imagine two or three candidates achieving that threshold in a number of primaries.

The loser-takes-some quality is one reason why Hillary Clinton could not catch Barack Obama in 2008, and Bernie Sanders could not catch Hillary in 2016.  Even if you win 60/40, it’s hard to catch a frontrunner who is 100+ delegates ahead in a two-person race.  You simply can’t string together material enough “net gains” to close the gap meaningfully.

But in a four or five person race, you have the opposite problem:  the frontrunner can’t amass enough delegates to get near a majority.

The key to this scenario is a simple question:  can Joe Biden win South Carolina if he loses Iowa and New Hampshire?  In some measure, this probably depends on by how much he loses.  If he comes in a distant fourth (or worse) in both, that’s a major problem.  But if he is fourth in a tight bunching, he is probably not hurt much at all.

If Biden wins South Carolina, he might clean up on Super Tuesday, enough to build up that 100 delegate lead and go from there.
And if he loses South Carolina, he may simply be done.  The way to be beat Biden is to generate enough momentum from early wins to knock him off.  If anyone wins three of the four early primaries, that person will be the one cleaning up on Super Tuesday.

But anything can happen.  And a brokered convention has interesting dynamics.  One would think it would come down to horse trading:  someone with fewer delegates yielding to the leader in return for a plum position, the vice-presidency or one of the major cabinet positions, perhaps.  That might work for Pete Buttigieg, but for Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden, if they are trailing with a material set of delegates?  What would Bernie or Biden possibly want?  And as for Elizabeth Warren, it is hard to see her in a centrist cabinet.


THE NUMBERS

Iowa:  Surprisingly, there has only been one new poll in Iowa in December, so we have grouped it with the late November poll.  Pete Buttigieg remains atop the field, but with no upward movement, and Joe Biden is now in a virtual tie with him, with Sanders and Warren not far behind.  And Amy Klobuchar is truly coming on with real momentum.

If the caucuses went like this, it would bode very, very well for Pete -- and for Joe Biden.  A close second for Biden would be considered a win at this point.

Average of Iowa Polls
Candidates
Oct (5)
Early Nov (3)
Nov 16-Dec 15 (2)
Buttigieg
14
22
22
Biden
19
15
20
Sanders
15
17
18
Warren
22
18
16
Klobuchar
3
5
8
Yang
2
3
3
Steyer
2
3
3
Booker
2
2
3
Gabbard
2
3
2
Bloomberg
n/a
2
2

New Hampshire:  Sanders and Buttigieg are basically tied here, with a nice bounceback for Bernie from last month.  Warren took a bad tumble, and Biden seems to be fading here as well.  Gabbard and Yang are showing life.

Nevada:  There has been no new polling this month; Biden was ahead last month, with Warren and Bernie tied for second.

South Carolina.  Still a Biden stronghold, as the former VP holds twice the support of Warren and Sanders.  Buttigieg has doubled his support here but it is still in single digits.

(Note the columns on these charts vary from state to state, depending upon the availability of polls.)

Average of NH Polls

Average of Nevada Polls

Average of South Carolina Polls
Cand.
O (3)
 N1-15 (3)
N16-D15 (3)

Cand.
A/M/J (2)
J/A/S (5)
O/N (4)

Cand.
J/A/S (8)
O (5)
N/D (3)
Sanders
20
14
19

Biden
31
25
29

Biden
39
36
35
Buttigieg
9
19
18

Warren
15
16
20

Warren
13
15
16
Biden
21
19
14

Sanders
18
20
20

Sanders
14
12
15
Warren
25
21
13

Buttigieg
6
4
7

Buttigieg
4
4
8
Gabbard
2
3
6

Steyer
n/a
3
4

Steyer
2
4
4
Yang
3
2
5

Yang
3
2
3

Booker
3
3
3
Steyer
3
3
3

Klob.
2
1
2

Bloom.
n/a
n/a
3
Klob.
2
4
2






Yang
1
2
2
Bloom.
n/a
n/a
2






Gabbard
1
1
2
Booker
2
2
2












National.   Elizabeth Warren took a big hit in the national polls, dropping a full five point.  While national polls don’t typically “matter,” this might be the exception.  To the extent that Democrats are tiring of her message nationally, that is not a good sign.  And unlike other candidates who might be able to massage their policy positions, she has little recourse.  Her trademark is the big idea and the detailed policy plan behind it.  Those are hard to swap out for more moderate positions.  It would be a mighty big pullback for Warren to suddenly adopt some form of Medicare for Some, and even find other Medicare variant that has not already been claimed by an opponent. 

Pete Buttigieg climbed +3 points nationally, and Mike Bloomberg entered at the 4% level.   Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have basically been in the same place all year, roughly 30% for Biden and about 20% for Bernie.

Average of National Polls for the Month at Mid-Month
Chng vs. Last Month
Candidates
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Biden
29
29
31
37
34
30
30
28
28
28
28
0
Sanders
17
23
23
18
17
16
16
17
16
17
18
1
Warren
7
7
6
8
10
13
15
17
23
21
16
-5
Buttigieg
0
0
3
7
7
6
5
5
6
7
10
3
Bloomberg
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
4
4
Yang
1
0
1
1
1
1
2
3
3
3
3
0
Booker
4
5
4
3
2
2
2
2
2
2
2
0
Klobuchar
2
4
2
2
1
1
1
1
1
2
2
0
Gabbard
1
1
1
1
0
1
1
1
1
2
2
0
Castro
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
0
Steyer
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
1
1
1
1
1
0
Bennet
n/a
n/a
n/a
1
1
0
0
1
1
1
1
0
Delaney
0
0
1
0
0
0
1
0
0
1
1
0
Williamson
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
1
1
0
0
0
Messam
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
Patrick
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
0
Other/NA
38
30
27
21
26
29
24
22
16
14
11
-3


WHO CAN BEAT TRUMP?

This is the core measure of “electability” that thus far has been the calling card of Joe Biden’s campaign (“I can beat Trump”).  Biden combines exceptional head-to-head polling numbers with a simple path to 270 – taking back the Midwest – and on these pillars lay his claim to electability.

He can still make that claim.  In head-to-head polling in both nationally and in swing states over the last six weeks, pitting the various leading Democrats versus Trump, Biden continues to do better versus Trump than his opponents (although Sanders does well nationally).


Head-to-Head November/December Polls Dems Versus Trump
Nat'l/State Polls
Biden
Warren
Sanders
Buttigieg
National
Biden +7
Warren +4
Sanders +7
Buttigieg +2
Avg. Swing State *
Biden +2
Warren -2
Sanders -1
Buttigieg 0
 * States polled:  AZ, IO, NH (2), NC (2), NV, WI



THE GOP RACE

The Trump challengers, William Weld and Joe Walsh, are not exactly getting much traction.  The most recent polling (from October) has Trump garnering 87% of the GOP vote, while the two challengers are both at 2% or less.


THE FULL FIELD

Here are the entire Democratic and Republican fields as of today, ranked by the most recent national polls.

Democratic Candidates
Age
Announcement  Date
Credentials
Latest national polls     (11/16 - 12/15)
Joe Biden
76
4/25/2019
Ex-VP and Ex-Senator, Delaware
28%
Bernie Sanders
78
2/19/2019
Senator, Vermont
18%
Elizabeth Warren
70
12/31/2018
Senator, Massachusetts
16%
Pete Buttigeg
37
1/22/2019
Mayor, South Bend, Indiana
10%
Michael Bloomberg
77
11/24/2019
Ex-Mayor of New York City
4%
Andrew Yang
44
11/6/2017
Entrepreneur
3%
Cory Booker
50
2/1/2019
Senator, New Jersey
2%
Amy Klobuchar
59
2/10/2019
Senator, Minnesota
2%
Tulsi Gabbard
38
1/11/2019
Representative, Hawaii
2%
Julian Castro
45
1/10/2019
Ex-Secretary, HUD
1%
Tom Steyer
62
7/9/2019
Billionaire hedge fund manager
1%
Michael Bennet
54
5/2/2019
Senator, Colorado
1%
John Delaney
56
7/28/2017
Representative, Maryland
1%
Marianne Williamson
67
1/28/2019
Self-help author
0%
Wayne Messam
45
3/28/2019
Mayor, Miramar, Florida
0%
Deval Patrick
63
11/13/2019
Ex-Governor, Massachusetts
0%





Republican Candidates
Age
Announcement  Date
Credentials
Latest national polls
Donald Trump
73
6/18/2019
President
86%
William Weld
74
4/15/2019
Ex-Governor, Massachusetts
2%
Joe Walsh
57
8/25/2019
Ex-Representative, Illinois
1%

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