Swing State Pres

Sunday, July 28, 2019

BTRTN: Point/Counterpoint: Debating the Dems' Next Steps Following the Mueller Debacle

Sure, the Mueller testimony was a debacle, but where to go from here?  Tom and Steve take the exact same set of facts and come to diametrically opposite conclusions, mirroring the conflict in the Democratic Party at large. Read the best argument for each point of view, side by side, right here:

Profiles in Discourage:  Pelosi Chooses Expedience over Principle, and We Will Pay

The Democrats need to stop putting their fingers in the wind and trying to game out scenarios that may or may not unfold. Beware, Nancy, of the law of unintended consequences. Your failure to move forward with impeachment may be exactly what gets Trump re-elected. Steve thinks Pelosi should stop doing the expedient thing, and start doing the right thing. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
It was sad to watch the Mueller testimony, for so many reasons.
Sad to watch a man who is clearly no longer as razor sharp as he used to be.
Sad to watch a great man fail to rise to the occasion, a man who allowed his own personal discomfort with testifying to get in the way of the importance of what he was testifying about.
Sad to watch a man who – for all his intellect and brilliance – simply did not understand how incredibly important it would have been for him to simply read the words in his own report out loud.
Sad that he did not understand that it appeared that he was unwilling to stand by the words he supposedly wrote.
Sad to watch a man who did not understand that in the world of communication, the issue is never what you say. The only thing that matters is what people hear.
Sad to realize that Mueller, for all his patriotism, felt that it was more important to follow department regulations and the will of his bosses strictly by the book, failing to see that his higher duty was to use his position to best serve the Constitution of the United States and its citizens.
Sad that a bunch of Republican cowards thought that their most important job was to smear the reputation and sully the motives of a great American patriot.
Sad that nobody in Congress understood that the Intelligence Committee should have gone first, and then Judiciary. That way, the focus would have been on the ongoing threat of Russian interference in our elections. This would have provided appropriate context for the discussion to the Trump campaign’s involvement with Russian, and Trump’s effort to obstruct justice.
Sad that almost everyone in the United States who tuned in simply listened for the aspects of the testimony that reinforced their ingoing bias.
But what was most sad was listening to how Democrats reacted afterward.
Their was an immediate chorus, with many chanting words to the effect of this in unison: “This just shows how important it is to enforce our subpoena of Don McGahn, so America will hear in his own words how the President obstructed justice!!”
Read: Mueller failed to turn the tide on the impeachment question, so now our only hope is getting Don McGahn to testify.
Deus ex McGahn.  Mueller failed to save us… but McGahn will save us! McGahn will finally make Americans see that Trump should be impeached!
Most sad is when Democrats fail to take the action ordained in the Constitution as the proper remedy for Presidential high crimes and misdemeanors.
Sorry, Democrats. Stop blaming Mueller. Stop thinking McGahn will have any impact.
You, Democrats, may have already blown this show with your timidity, your fear, and your unwillingness to act on principle.
As this slow-motion train wreck unfolds, we are getting head-on impact lesson in why it is so critically important to act on principle rather than political calculation.
Nancy Pelosi keeps saying that the Democrats cannot act on impeachment until they have an unimpeachable case. That they should not move forward until they are certain that the American people will support it. In so doing, Nancy Pelosi is essentially admitting to leading by polling. She is telling people that she is leading by putting her finger up in the air to see which way the winds are blowing, abdicating the moral imperatives that leadership demand.
On a very practical level, she seems to have missed a critical point: her own equivocation may be one of the biggest reasons Americans are dubious.
If she is not convinced he should be impeached yet, why should anyone else be?
If she was not compelled to act by Mueller’s report, why should anyone be?
If she felt it was vital to hear from Mueller in person, and now no opinions are changed, doesn’t that mean we should give it up?
If she keeps saying, “we have to hear one more witness testify under oath,” doesn’t that mean that all the prior evidence isn’t enough?
Wake up, folks. Nancy Pelosi has been kicking McGahn down the road for months, sandbagging efforts to impeach Trump with a leaden pocket veto.
Somehow, in all this, she is failing to understand just how much damage she has done to the Democrats opportunity to win the White House in 2020.
Every time she raised the bar on what it takes to warrant impeachment, she was serving Donald Trump better than any of Trump’s own sycophants. By shrinking from impeachment, she has strengthened Donald Trump’s hand far, far more than she would have done by proceeding.
I can hear it now, in that bellicose, pompous, manipulative, deceitful posturing of the President of the United States:
“The Dems and their two year witch hunt turned up nothing! If they thought it had turned up anything, they would have voted to impeach. But they didn’t. It was all a hoax and a witch hunt, and it turned up nothing! Don’t ask me. Don’t ask Republicans. Ask the Democrats – they are the ones who concluded that there was no collusion and no obstruction.”
I know the other point of view. “Why impeach when you will never get a conviction in the Senate? Why force Congresspersons in swing districts to make a controversial vote and risk the House majority?”
Why?
The first reason Nancy Pelosi should have been leading the charge on  impeachment is because she swore and oath to protect the Constitution of the United States of America.
When a President commits high crimes and misdemeanors – as the Mueller report truly did establish – it’s Congress’s duty to act. To shrink from that duty is to fail in that oath.
So many, many times we have watched people opt for the expedient, short-term gimmick instead of taking the hard road of standing firm on a matter of principle. The  truth is that short-term, expedient answers rarely produce a proud outcome.
John F. Kennedy wrote a book called “Profiles in Courage.” It was a paean to those who acted on principle rather than political expediency. It was a tribute to those who refused to yield to the enormous pressure to conform to the short-term view. It was a book about doing the right thing.
John F. Kennedy understood leadership, and he knew that great leaders do not hold their fingers in the air to see how the wind is blowing.
Great leaders have a powerful internal gyroscope that empowers them mightily with the force of personal conviction. They do not wait to be given permission by the blessing of polls. They act on their principles about what they believe is the right thing to do.
Not buying the argument of acting on principle? How about if we examine our “expedient” approach and realize how flawed it really is.
Nancy Pelosi believes that articles impeachment passed in the House followed by a failure to acquit in the Senate will help Trump by “exonerating” him.  Yet, in that scenario, it is Senate Republicans “exonerate” Trump. But by failing to pass articles of impeachment in the House, it is the Democrats who are exonerating Trump. It is the Democrats who are deciding that there are no grounds for removing Trump from office. It is the Democrats who appear weak, timid, and intimidated by Trump.  It is the Democrats who enable Trump to declare victory, exoneration, and innocence.
A strong argument can be made that having the black mark of impeachment hanging over Trump between now and election day – with parades of witnesses who are finally forcefully compelled to testify precisely because it is the legal equivalent of a Grand Jury  – would do far more damage to Trump than watching White House staff blow off House subpoenas, running out the  clock until election day.
How about this, Nancy? Put your foot on the pace of the proceedings, so that the House impeachment inquiry leads to a formal vote to impeach in October, leaving no time for a Senate trial before election day. That way Trump has the stain of impeachment, but no liberating exoneration from the Senate. Please tell me I am not the only one who has thought of that idea.
Perhaps at this point, it is true that Democrats should give up on impeachment and focus totally on winning the election.
But the reason to reach this conclusion is not because it is good strategy. It is because they have utterly failed to live up to their responsibility to act in a timely manner on the mountain of evidence collected in the Mueller report.  When William Barr twisted its findings, the Democrats did not protest. They waited and waited, hoping Robert Mueller would make it easier for them. Now that Mueller has turned out to be not up to the task, the Democrats are running after Don McGahn. The more they wait to act, the more Americans assume that they don’t have a case. Or that they don’t have the guts.
The endgame in this farce will not likely be a triumph of political savvy and strategy. It will more likely be a tragedy borne of a failure to act on principle.
At best, Nancy Pelosi is a profile in being too clever by half, believing that her refusal to impeach Donald Trump is actually the most effective way to reach a desired end.
More likely, she is what John F. Kennedy might call a profile in discourage, failing to lead her caucus to do the right thing for the right reason.


Time To Bury the Impeachment Fantasy
With Mueller out of the way, Tom thinks we need to stick with the Pelosi plan.

It would have been nice.  Robert Mueller strides into the hearings, settles in behind the microphone and, displaying a startlingly powerful baritone and an encyclopedic grasp of his material, weaves a spellbinding saga of criminal behavior.  The facts were widely known, but somehow, simply hearing this paragon of virtue patiently explaining them, the obstructions became vivid, real and raw.  With Mueller summoning every ounce of the moral rectitude he had acquired in his heroic career to lay Trump’s crimes bare, you could feel the tsunami of public opinion changing across America.  Mueller’s stentorian performance moved not just moderate Democrats into the impeachment camp, but the rest of the nation as well.  By the time the sun set, the real question was whether the Democrats would file for impeachment the next day, or instead would a trio of GOP wise men (say, McConnell, Romney and Graham?) pay a visit to the orange man in the White House to tell him the jig was up, to get ready for the helicopter on the South Lawn to whisk you away to Mar-A-Lago, forever.
Ah yes, the fantasy.  It was always a fantasy.  Robert Mueller was no more going to pull that off than Neil Armstrong himself was going to walk on the moon on July 20, 2019.
And now it’s time to move on.
It’s time for the Democrats to bury the impeachment fantasy, follow the Pelosi script and get on with 2020.  Impeachment is not the end game:  getting rid of Donald Trump as quickly as possible is the end game.  And the best way – the fastest way, the surest way, the least risky way – is to vote him out in 2020.
Through that lens, Robert Mueller did us a favor.  He was sooooo bad.  Sure, he made it clear that he had not cleared Trump of obstruction of justice.  Yes, he agreed that Trump committed the acts that comprise the case for obstruction.  He testified that he, Mueller, had never applied for the FBI post, calling out Trump in yet another lie.  And he concluded the Russians did indeed interfere with the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf, and they continue to plot interference even as Mueller was testifying, and would again in 2020:  Trump had ushered in “the “new normal” as he billed it, with heavy regret.
But wow, that delivery!  It was the worst public performance ever on Capitol Hill, at least the worst that had drawn a mass audience.  It was utterly dreadful.  Atticus Finch?  I don’t think so.
Folks, get over it.  Even if Mueller had performed superbly, every GOP Senator would still vote down impeachment.  There was no new news to be had, no bombshell revelation in the works, nothing that truly could ever have tipped the scales, and certainly not with by-the-book, the-report-is-my-testimony Bob Mueller at the stand.  The smoking gun here is a tape of a phone call from Putin to Trump, horse-trading the 2016 election for all sorts of policy goodies, with a Trump Tower penthouse in Moscow thrown in.  Who knows if a call like that happened, or a deal of that sort negotiated?  But there is no tape.  And no tape, no evidence, no smoking gun.  And what we have now has convinced exactly one GOP member of Congress to abandon Trump -- and he (Representative Justin Amish) quickly became an Independent.
We have to move on.  Stop the fantasy now.  Don’t make the Don McGahn Testimony the next Great Impeachment Hope.  We know what Don McGahn will say when he’s finally in front of the House Judiciary Committee.  “Yes. Trump did ask me to fire Mueller.  I said no.  Then, a few days later, he asked me to lie about him asking me to fire Mueller.  I said no.”   I can practically hear the GOP Senators yawning right now. 
I’m with her.  And I mean Nancy Pelosi.  Smartest pure politician of our times.  SHE knows impeachment is a loser.  She’s wonderful to watch, as she gives just enough space to Jerry Nadler and the righteous gang to make it seem like, by golly, if we can get these people to testify and they produce, I sure will give the green light to impeachment!  You bet!
Knowing full well that it will never happen.  Not with -- hmm, let me check – Donald Trump standing tall with a 90% approval rating among Republicans (per Gallup, July, 2019).  And if Trump survives a Senate trial – which of course he will, absent that Putin phone call tape – then not only will the impeachment folly give Trump a boost in his 2020 White House bid (“Yet again, I am vindicated, this time by the Senate, and it wasn’t even close.  No collusion!  No obstruction!”), but the Dems also risk losing the House.
Wait, what….did you say lose the House???  Yes, that is exactly what I said.  Impeachment without a conviction could cause the Democrats to lose the House.
Does everyone understand why more than half of the Democrats in the House are not in favor of impeachment?  Because they are worried that if they pursue impeachment, they put their seats at risk. And they have good reason to worry.  Look at the chart below.  The Dems flipped 39 seats in 2018 (excluding Pennsylvania which was redistricted).   They won those seats by +5 percentage points on average.  No wonder only six of those 39 new reps have come out for impeachment!  Those seats could easily flip back.  The moderate constituents who elected them in 2018, switching from GOP votes in 2016, do not want impeachment.  Pursuing impeachment could cause these seats to flip back to the GOP in 2020.  And with them, the GOP wins back the House!

Winning Dem Districts in 2018
Number
Margin of Win in 2018
Want to Impeach Trump
Have not come out for impeachment
Remained DEM
197
+48%
95/197 = 48%
102/197 = 52%
Flipped from GOP to DEM
39*
+5%
6 /39 = 15%
33 /39 = 85%
*Excludes Pennsylvania which was redistricted

And those brave Democrats coming out for impeachment?  They won their seats by +48 percentage points!  Don’t they realize they are putting their colleagues in a brutal spot, one that could cost them their seats, and the Dems their majority, which right now is the only bulwark against all sorts of hideous potential GOP legislation?
It is telling that only 13 million Americans watched the Mueller hearings, far less than the 19 million that watched James Comey or the 21 million that watched Brett Kavanaugh.  America is, by and large, done with Mueller.  The sad fact is that very few minds were changed by his two-year investigation, and there ain’t no Putin phone call on tape.  Politico/Morning Consult just ran a post-Mueller testimony poll on impeachment and the results were unchanged:  47% against impeachment, 36% for, 16% undecided.
You know how when someone is losing an argument, they tend to say the same thing over and over again, just getting louder each time until they are practically shouting?  Does that ever work?  The Dems version is:  first, Trump should be impeached on the face of the actual events (e.g., his on-air admission to Lester Holt that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation); OK, (louder) now we should impeach based on the Mueller Report; still not convinced -- OK (shouting) now the Mueller testimony; not yet – (screaming) wait’ll you hear Don McGahn!  But the content remains the same, only the voice gets louder.  It’s not working; it's not convincing anyone on the other side.  As horrific as Trump is, we have to get real. 
Folks, we cannot blow this.  Here’s the Pelosi plan.  Don’t impeach, it’s a loser.  Express outrage, great.  Let those subpoenas fly and do battle in the courts.  Bring McGahn, Hope Hicks and the crew to the microphone, in public.   Bring the dirt out in the open, and soil Trump with it. 
But let all that go on in the background, with the occasional headline.  It may do some damage.  But don’t spend your time waiting for impeachment.  It ain’t happening unless that Putin tape shows up.  No, spend your time registering Democratic voters and encouraging your candidates to talk about health care, climate change and income inequality, issues where the GOP is vulnerable.  And then when one of the lucky 24 wins the Democratic nomination, whether it is Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg or Wayne Messam, get on board and work like a dog for that candidate, as if that candidate were your own.
The unintended consequence of the Mueller disaster is that now we can bury the impeachment fantasy and turn to the real task, defeating Donald Trump on November 3, 2020.

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Monday, July 15, 2019

BTRTN: Swalwell Ends Well. Others Should Follow.


It wasn’t a major headline when Eric Swalwell dropped his Presidential bid last week. But Steve thinks we should pause to applaud his wise move, and to send a message to the other weak candidates.

Why are all the young candidates showing the supposedly experienced elders how it’s done?

Pete Buttigieg is the youngest candidate in the field, and he consistently comes across as more measured, thoughtful, and wise than either of those grumpy grandpas ahead of him in the polls.

Kamala Harris is a first term Senator and, at 54, a relative youngster compared Biden, Bernie, and Warren.  Yet in the debate, she showed 76-year-old Joe Biden how to efficiently fillet the main course in front of the guests.

And now Eric Swalwell, all of 38 years old, is the first Democratic Presidential candidate to demonstrate a genuine tether to reality.  He decided to withdraw from the race.

Didn’t know there was an “Eric Swalwell” in the Democratic field? Fair enough: he was one of those “refrigerator candidates” (that’s how we refer to candidates whose polling numbers are “Sub Zero”), and was so on the periphery that he stood at the very last podium stage right. For context, the candidate in the corresponding last podium stage left, Marianne Williamson, appeared to be representing the rings of Saturn. Badly, we might add.

Still and all, Swalwell did well... well enough in the debates to outperform some of the better known candidates. For one thing, he did not spontaneously combust into Spanish to elude a tough question about tax policy.  

But last week the young Congressman from California was somehow able to acknowledge what neither John Hickenlooper nor that loopy hick from Maryland, John Delaney, can bring themselves to admit. He accepted that he had no chance of winning, and decided that his energies were best expended elsewhere.

In Swalwell’s case, the logic is clear: why put his Congressional seat at risk on a longer shot than Knicks breaking .500? Swalwell sits on two vitally important and highly visible committees, and gets more air time on MSNBC than some of their weekend anchors. He appears to have concluded that he can do more for himself, his party, and his country by not running for President.

Who knows? Maybe Eric Swalwell decided that defeating Donald Trump is so important to the future of this nation that he wanted to get out of the way and let the party focus on the truly serious candidates. Maybe he did not want to contribute to the carnival atmosphere and reality tv trappings of two dozen candidates screeching for attention, many of whom appear to be engaged in vanity exercises.

Maybe he was actually putting his nation and his party ahead of his own ambitions. Wouldn't that be something?

Well, there are about a dozen other people in this race who should be thinking about making a hard turn onto Swalwell’s exit ramp. Some should just clear the stage so that the voting population gets to hear more from the legitimate candidates. And pundits are pointing out that some of the candidates should be serving a higher purpose than pursuing a slim-to-none chance at the presidency.

Let’s start with four candidates who could be doing their party and their country a great service by opting out of the Presidential race and aiming for the U.S. Senate. There’s both Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke in Texas, John Hickenlooper in Colorado, and Montana Governor Steve Bullock – and all are in a position to seriously challenge a vulnerable Republican for a Senate seat in 2020.

As James Carville might have put it, it’s the Senate, stupid. If the Democrats are fortunate enough to win the White House back in 2020, they would still be frustratingly hamstrung if they did not also secure control of the Senate. Sure, a Dem President would put forward a name for any potential Supreme Court opening, but do we really think the Republican majority living under the warped spell of Mitch McConnell would approve any progressive nominee?

The fight for the Senate is not getting the focus it needs. Donald Trump consumes so much media oxygen that he obscures the fact that two of his Republican cronies are taking a wrecking ball to the Constitution. William Barr, Trump’s Attorney General, seems to believe that “separation of powers” means separating the other two branches of government from power. And Mitch McConnell, as Senate Majority Leader, has done more to inflame the polarization that is destroying our democracy than anyone. 
 
McConnell, you see, actually knows how to intentionally subvert the Constitution. With Trump, you get the feeling that he has absolutely no understanding of democracy, government, the Constitution, separation of powers, the designated hitter, arithmetic, gravity, or syntax. He is merely an ignorant infant who seeks to destroy any obstacle in his path using whatever means are most lethal. When Trump careens toward a Constitutional Crisis, it is because he has no idea what he is doing, and wouldn't care if he did.
   
But McConnell does. He knows the Senate rules and the Constitution, so he knows when he can maneuver around its intent even as he appears to abide by its literal language. If Newt Gingrich created the politics of polarization, Mitch McConnell gave them their nuclear warhead. It was McConnell who famously declared in 2009 that his purpose as Senator Majority Leader was to ensure that Barack Obama was a one-term President. Yes, he announced out loud that the central focus of his public service was to cause the president to fail. That's McConnell's idea of patriotism.

Then, in 2016, McConnell parked his butt on top of Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. It was McConnell who torpedoed the clear intent of the Founding Fathers by trumping up a bogus rationale for refusing to allow the Senate to consider Garland’s nomination. It’s that simple: no Mitch McConnell, no Neil Gorsuch. Roe v. Wade would not be imperiled. Gerrymandering would be unconstitutional. McConnell cheated progressives out of the Supreme Court Justice that was rightly Barack Obama’s to appoint.

Mitch’s problem, however, is that he only gets to wield his wizard’s wand of wickedness when the Republican Party has the majority of seats in the Senate. That is when he is the Senate Majority Leader, one of the most powerful positions in our Government. When the Democrats control the Senate, he is the Senate Minority Leader, essentially a meaningless, ineffectual nothing job. He is just McConnell from Kentucky, the hyper-jowled, pinched-nosed nerd with the resting Mitch face.  A Democratic majority is pure, unalloyed kryptonite to McConnell’s power.
  
Three seats in the Senate could easily be the difference between a progressive Supreme Court Justice and yet another Brett Kavanaugh. Three seats in the Senate save Roe v. Wade. Three seats in the Senate can help solve healthcare. 

It is time to get focused on the big picture. The 2020 election is not just about defeating Donald Trump. It is regaining control of government. Trump is just one particularly ugly piece of the picture. 

The United States Senate is currently controlled by the Republicans, with 53 seats, to only 47 for Democrats. This means that if the Democrats win the White House in 2020, they must flip at least three seats to control the chamber… as a Democratic VP would be able to vote to break 50/50 ties. But it’s quite likely that the Dems will have to win four, as it is questionable whether Doug Jones will be able to retain his seat in overwhelmingly Republican Alabama. 

Four Senate seats to be flipped. That is a very tall order. 

Which is why we have to make sure that the Democratic Party is not simply selecting the Presidential candidate with the best chance of beating Trump, it must also make sure it has the Senate candidates with the best chance of beating their Republican rivals… most acutely in States where a Republican is the incumbent running for re-election. Particularly where those Republican Senators are known to be vulnerable.

Colorado is one of those states. A reliably Republican state just a decade ago, it is morphing blue, and Senator Cory Gardner is now the only Republican holding statewide office. Gardner eked out his Senate win in 2016 by a mere 40,000 votes, and was once viewed as a man willing to buck his party. Now he is now shackled to Donald Trump. 

A number of well-respected Colorado Democrats have declared their intent to challenge Gardner, but none have the name recognition and popularity of John Hickenlooper, former two-term Mayor of Denver and two-term Governor. The name Hickenlooper may seem whacky in 49 states, but it stands tall in the mile-high state. He would be the Dems’ best bet against Gardner. 

But where is Hickenlooper? Tilting at windmills, running for President. Look, the only scenario in which Hickenlooper emerges as the President of the United States would involve an asteroid, a flood, or a pandemic, and might require all three. Stop, John. Stop, now. Don’t wait for the April, 2020 filing deadline. We need you in the Senate. Do the right thing.
 
Similarly, no one is looking at Montana Governor Steve Bullock and seeing Franklin Roosevelt. Bullock started his Presidential campaign too late to have a real chance at qualifying for the opening debates (which is, arguably, itself an indication of insufficient political savvy). But in Montana, Bullock is big. He is a Democrat who won statewide office in Montana. There’s a Senate election there in 2020 with a Republican incumbent. Bullock would give the Dems a real shot at. Do it, Steve. Do the right thing.

Let's talk about Beto O’Rourke. It’s hard to look him in the eyes, ask him to risk losing a second Senate election in the same state within two years, and then try to tell him it’s a shrewd career move. The problem, however, is one of O’Rourke’s own making. Fresh off his dazzling near-miss in 2018, when he stormed out of nowhere to nearly defeat Texas incumbent Senator Ted Cruz, O’Rourke decided that 2020 was his moment.

However, for every brilliant move he made in his Senate campaign, he has laid an egg in his nascent Presidential bid. The Vanity Fair cover was more than its fair share of vanity. His propensity to leap onto countertops to give campaign speeches screamed style over substance. His campaign lags far behind his rivals in policy specifics. And his debate performance – where his natural charisma should have shone – was a dud.

Also in Texas we find the charming Julián Castro, who did very well in the debates, but had nothing to show for it in post-debate polling. Like O'Rourke, Castro is a young man. Both could serve two terms in the Senate and still run for President before they turn 60!

Sure, these two can read their clippings and justify staying in the race, but the O’Rourke/Castro phenomenon is shaping up to be an epic missed opportunity. The Democrats have two immensely appealing, capable, and well-qualified Texans who would have a strong chance to flip an important Republican Senate seat held by John Cornyn. And they are both passing on the opportunity.

C'mon, guys! Do the right thing!

Each of these candidates – Beto, Castro, Hickenlooper, and Bullock – should view the upside in their position.  On election night, 2020, they could either be sitting at home, largely forgotten, or they could be huge stories in some of the most critical Senate elections in the nation. Gentleman, if you don’t want to do it for your party or for your country, do it for yourself. 

But these candidates are hardly the only ones who should follow Representative Swalwell’s brilliant decision and opt out of the Presidential campaign. The essential dynamic of this race has already taken shape. There is a very clear top tier of the five leading contenders: Biden, Warren, Harris, Sanders, and Buttigieg. These are all well-funded, widely supported, well-developed candidacies, and all have staying power.

Then there are are candidates who are doing just well enough in polling and in the debates to carry on: Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar. We’d certainly put Castro and O’Rourke in this group, but still view them to be far enough behind the field that the Senate option seems wise at this point.

The rest? Despite the fact that there are at least seven firmly-entrenched, well-funded competitors out in front of them, a large number of "one percent" candidates persevere. Why

Sure, you can say that it is way to early to expect people to step aside. Really? The fact is that this race began in earnest six months ago. In that time, some candidates have made enormous progress. Others haven't made a dent.
 
There is a theory circulating that one of the reasons that there are so many Democratic candidates is because there is no downside to running… just upside, in the form of name recognition, elevating one’s personal brand, and career opportunity. Make a run for the Democratic nomination, and who knows? Maybe the VP nod? A cabinet post? How about a sweet gig on MSNBC? A few years raking in the dough as a big time lobbyist? What’s to lose?

Well, nothing… unless you put some stock in personal dignity and reputation.

For the incumbent Senator from New York to be lagging far behind the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana is not helping her brand. 

It’s one thing to make a serious, respectable run for Presidential nomination and not win.

It’s quite another thing to run for President and generate anemic support, become an easy target for late night comedians, and fail to even be taken seriously enough to be considered as in the top two tiers of candidates.

At that point, all you are proving is that you have no following, no visceral appeal, and no ability to rouse or motivate supporters. Keep it up, and all you will accomplish is to convince everyone that you’d bring nothing to the party as a VP candidate or even as an MSNBC contributor. 

Those who think that a failed run for the Presidency is a good path to the VP slot would do well to review recent history. Most VP candidates this century never entered the race for the White House: Tim Kaine, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin, Joe Lieberman, and Dick Cheney. The two exceptions are interesting. In 2004, John Kerry chose John Edwards as his running mate precisely because he had demonstrated powerful voter appeal as the runner-up in the Presidential race. And in 2008, Barack Obama selected Joe Biden… a candidate for the nomination who had dropped out very early in the race when he recognized that he was not a viable candidate.  So if are simply in it for the VP slot, (1) don’t run for President, (2) run such a strong campaign that you prove you can help in the general election, or (3) drop out early before it’s becomes apparent that you bring nothing to the table. 

There you have it, de Blasio, Moulton, Ryan, Gillibrand, Inslee, Gabbard, Delaney, Bennet, Messam, Sestak, Williamson, and Yang.

All you are doing right now is adding to the carnival atmosphere that makes the most important election of our lifetime look like a game show with an applause-o-meter and a buzzer. You are making this campaign look like a reality tv show, which, unfortunately for you, may be named The Biggest Loser.

Follow the fine example of Representative Swalwell.

He's not hanging around to further quantify his campaign's lack of viability.

Clear the deck. Get off the debate stage. Let the serious work of choosing the Democratic candidate begin.

Wouldn’t it be great if in next debate, we saw only the strongest candidates, and each got two to three minutes instead of sixty seconds to communicate their beliefs and proposals on, say, global warming, healthcare, immigration policy, income equality, protecting our elections from foreign subversion, Middle East peace, repairing relationships with allies, women’s reproductive rights, decaying infrastructure, voting rights, gerrymandering, racial bias and conflict, prescription drug pricing, fixing public education, addressing biases and inequities in law enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration, gender equality, comprehensive tax reform, dealing with the opioid crisis, balancing the budget, reducing the national debt, job creation, revisiting international trade and security alliances, and arresting the spread of nuclear weapons? 

You know, substantive dialog on the real issues. It's the thing that separates Democrats from Trumpublicans.

Clear the stage, wannabees.

If you won’t do it for your Country, do it for your party. And if you won’t do it for your party, do it for your own narrow self-interest. 

Coming in 17th out of two dozen candidates will not make you a hometown hero. 

Becoming a rounding error is unbecoming.

Having your name memorialized as a synonym for lack of self-awareness is not the legacy to leave for the grandchildren.

Recognize that a certain point, you are getting in the way of the most urgent task of our time: regaining control of our government before Trump, Barr, and McConnell destroy it. 

Representative Swalwell, thank you for your fine example.

As for the rest of you marginal candidates: if you persist in your pipe dream, you are destined to become a comedy or a tragedy, but most certainly not a President. 

Get out now.

Because the way things are going, it's only Swalwell that ends well. 



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Friday, July 12, 2019

BTRTN 2020 Vision: Was Biden Really Hurt That Badly in the Debate?

Tom with our BTRTN monthly feature on the 2020 elections, with all the latest numbers and commentary.
Image result for 2020 vision
As Mark Twain might have said, the reports of Joe Biden’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.  One might think Biden was practically a goner based on the spate of headlines following the second night of the Democratic debates, when Kamala Harris eviscerated Biden on busing.  Some typical headlines:  “Biden Fades, Harris Gains with Voters after Debates”; “Joe Biden Tumbles 10 Points After First Debate”; “Joe Biden’s Lead Plummets in Post-Debate Poll.”  We have our own interpretation of the polls – all the polls, not just a single poll here and there that might have been the impetus for those headlines.  But first, let’s set the Democratic field.

THE FIELD

Wait a minute, wasn’t the field already set, with the 23 candidates we identified last month?

Not so fast.  We’re now at 24 candidates, with three changes to report.  Eric Swalwell has officially dropped his bid, having rather logically concluded that his candidacy was not catching fire, and deciding to focus instead on getting reelected to his California House seat.

But that did not result in a narrowed field.  Indeed, despite that bit of common sense, the field actually expanded in the month.

Another Californian, billionaire Tom Steyer (he is referred to as “billionaire Tom Steyer” so often that “billionaire” seems to be his first name) has entered the race.  Steyer is the ex-hedge fund mogul who has spent millions on “impeach Trump” ads, after having made his initial mark in politics by devoting his post-hedge fund time and ample resources to environmental issues.  (In the interest of full disclosure, Steyer was a business school classmate of mine.)

And former Pennsylvania Representative Joe Sestak threw his hat in the ring as well.  Sestak has been a figure in swing district elections in the past (winning and losing Pennsylvania’s 7th district and losing a bid for the Senate in 2010), and although he has not held office for almost a decade, he is a credible candidate.

So we now have 24 Democrats in the field, as follows, ranked by the average of the national polls over the last month.

Candidates
Age
Announcement  Date
Credentials
Latest National Polls (May 16 to Jun 15, 2019)
Joe Biden
76
4/25/2019
Ex-VP and Ex-Senator, Delaware
29%
Bernie Sanders
77
2/19/2019
Senator, Vermont
15%
Kamala Harris
54
1/18/2019
Senator, California
15%
Elizabeth Warren
69
12/31/2018
Senator, Massachusetts
13%
Pete Buttigeig
36
1/22/2019
Mayor, South Bend, Indiana
4%
Beto O'Rourke
46
3/14/2019
Ex-Representative, Texas
3%
Cory Booker
49
2/1/2019
Senator, New Jersey
2%
Amy Klobuchar
58
2/10/2019
Senator, Minnesota
1%
Kirsten Gillibrand
51
1/15/2019
Senator, New York
1%
Julian Castro
44
1/10/2019
Ex-Secretary, HUD
1%
Andrew Yang
43
11/6/2017
Entrepreneur
1%
Michael Bennet
54
5/2/2019
Senator, Colorado
1%
Jay Inslee
67
3/1/2019
Governor, Washington
1%
Tulsi Gabbard
37
1/11/2019
Representative, Hawaii
1%
Steve Bullock
52
5/14/2019
Governor, Montana
1%
John Hickenlooper
66
3/4/2019
Ex-Governor, Colorado
0%
Tim Ryan
45
4/4/2019
Representative, Ohio
0%
John Delaney
55
7/28/2017
Representative, Maryland
0%
Marianne Williamson
66
1/28/2019
Self-help author
0%
Wayne Messam
44
3/28/2019
Mayor, Miramar, Florida
0%
Seth Moulton
40
4/22/2019
Representative, Massachusetts
0%
Bill de Blasio
58
5/14/2019
Mayor, New York City
0%
Joe Sestak
67
6/23/2019
Ex-Representative, Pennsylvania
n/a
Tom Steyer
62
7/9/2019
Billionaire hedge fund manager
n/a


THE MONTH

The campaign news of the past month – from June 15 to July 15 – was almost entirely dominated by the first round of debates – and their aftermath -- that were held in Miami on consecutive nights in late June.  The debates were limited to only 20 of the 23 candidates, apparently on the grounds that a maximum of 20 serious nominees could be accommodated.  This ignored two obvious alternatives:  having three debates over three night, or, going the other way, limiting the debates to only those who had made any sort of inroads in their campaigns.  Instead, three contenders were lopped off, leaving 13 others who were polling at 2% or less, most at 1% or 0%.

But regardless of the merits, the 20 went at it over the two nights, gamely battling for air time (faithfully recorded by media outlets, as if “time talking” was actually a valuable barometer of anything).  The main highlight (of course) was Kamala Harris taking on frontrunner Joe Biden midway through Night Two, with a far left jab with which Harris managed to both personalize the busing issue (“that little girl was me”) and demonize Biden, who was left blustering over context and the role of local government in busing decision-making.

This was universally viewed as a major event in the race, one that exposed the worst of Biden – his long track record full of compromises, his lack of agility and basic campaigning skill, his age – and elevated Harris, who has alternately shined and wobbled on the campaign trail.  Harris took full advantage of this first major testing ground, performing well in her other sound bites apart from the Biden blow, and she easily “won” Night Two.

The pundits generally gave Night One cleanly to Elizabeth Warren, with her tightly argued policy riffs neatly interwoven with her personal story.  She dominated the “undercard” (she was the only “tier one” contender present on Night One).  Other strong performers, according to most pundits, included Julian Castro, Bill de Blasio, Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker, while only a few of the also-rans were dissed, John Delaney, in particular, with Marianne Williamson, the self-proclaimed “love candidate,” making her own surreal mark.

In the aftermath, Joe Biden puffed out his chest and defended his civil rights record to mixed reviews, before he finally found his Uncle Joe persona again.  This came in the form of a direct apology for any inference that he was an admirer of long-ago segregationists (and Senate colleagues of the once-upon-a-time-we-worked-across-the-aisle young Joe Biden) James O. Eastland and Herman Talmadge.  Biden showed the nimbleness of a true, um, 76-year old in taking three weeks, rather than three minutes, hours or even days to realize this was the only logical course to take if he wanted to retain the African American support he has earned over the years, and desperately needs to maintain.

The only other truly consequential news outside of the debates for the month was the real-time drama of Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the not-quite-so-idyllic mid-America South Bend, Indiana turnaround story he has been touting.  For years Mayor Pete has been more or less persona non grata with the African American community in South Bend, ever since he fired the black police chief of the town just three months into his term.  In addition, there is a strong sense among that community that they have not equally shared in the boomlet the town has enjoyed under Pete’s reign.

But these resentments burst into public view with the death of an African-American man at the hands of a white police officer who happened to have turned off his body cam before the killing.  Buttigieg did a credible job handling the issue in both the debate and a town hall in South Bend, effectively walking the tightrope that Biden fell off, by both establishing his credible efforts to improve race relations in South Bend and conceding that those efforts have thus far fallen short of success.  Pete is half Biden’s age but a hundred times more deft.  Having said that, it is extraordinarily difficult – near impossible – to win the Democratic nomination without the support of the African American community, and Pete has a mountain to climb there. 


THE NUMBERS

What is the verdict on the debate, and all that Sturm und Drang among the leaders?   Below is a chart summarizing presidential preference polling in bellwether Iowa (on the left) and national numbers (on the right).  Look at the column headings carefully – in Iowa they are basically single poll results (except where noted), and must be interpreted with care, as comparisons are harder due to polling technique differences, and consequently trends are more difficult to establish.  The national polls are more robust, with anywhere from nine to fifteen polls represented in each column; note that the last two columns separate the past month into “pre-“ and “post-debate” periods.

These charts show a somewhat different story than that being splayed in the headlines.

·        Kamala Harris has indeed clearly made strides in both Iowa and nationally, and the debate performance is just as clearly what propelled her.  The Iowa jump feels real (again noting that it is based on only two polls, by two separate organizations).  The national jump, however, is far less of a spike than commonly perceived, from 7% to 11% on average, and it still leaves her in third place

·        But while Joe Biden’s support is dropping, it is at a much more modest rate than commonly reported.  The data indicate that Biden has been gradually slipping nationally since his excellent launch, and essentially is now back to his “pre-launch” level of 30%.  And the debate does not seem to have dramatically altered his standing nationally, with a loss of two points and still quite a large lead.  The single Iowa poll reveals a somewhat more significant drop, but again, back to the level he had throughout the spring.  So the bottom line is:  while still a poor performance, Biden did not suffer too much from the debate.

·        For all the praise for her Night One performance, Elizabeth Warren made no movement in either direction.  She is still in the 13% range in both Iowa and nationally.

·        Both Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg appear to have lost ground in Iowa (again, with due caution on the one poll), while holding serve in national polls.

Candidates*
Iowa Polls

Average of National Polls
DM Reg/CNN Mar 3-6
Mar 16 - Apr 15 (2 polls)
DM Reg/CNN Jun   2-5
CBS/ YG    May 31- Jun 12
USA/Su Jun 28 -  Jul 1 (post-deb.)

Mar 16 - Apr 15
Apr 16 - May 15
May 15 - Jun 15
Jun 16-25 (pre-deb.)
Jun 26-Jul 14 (post-deb.)
Biden
27
26
24
30
24

31
37
34
32
29
Harris
7
10
7
5
16

9
8
7
7
14
Warren
9
9
15
12
13

6
8
10
13
13
Sanders
25
20
16
22
9

23
18
17
16
15
Buttigieg
0
11
14
11
6

3
7
7
7
5
Booker
3
6
1
3
2

4
3
2
2
2
Klobuchar
3
2
2
4
2

2
2
1
1
1
O'Rourke
5
5
2
4
1

8
5
4
3
3
Gabbard
0
0
1
1
1

1
1
0
1
1
Yang
0
0
1
0
1

1
1
1
1
1
Castro
1
1
1
0
1

1
1
1
1
1
Delaney
0
0
1
2
1

1
0
0
0
0
Bennet
n/a
n/a
1
0
1

n/a
1
1
0
1
Bullock
n/a
n/a
0
0
0

n/a
n/a
0
1
1
Gillibrand
0
0
0
0
0

1
1
1
1
1
Inslee
1
1
1
1
0

1
1
0
0
1
Hickenlooper
0
0
0
0
0

1
1
0
0
0
Williamson
0
0
0
0
0

0
0
0
0
0
Ryan
n/a
n/a
0
0
0

n/a
1
0
1
0
Swalwell
n/a
n/a
0
0
0

n/a
0
0
0
0
Messam
n/a
n/a
0
0
0

n/a
0
0
0
0
Moulton
n/a
n/a
0
0
0

n/a
0
0
0
0
DeBlasio
n/a
n/a
0
0
0

n/a
n/a
0
0
0
Other/NA
19
9
13
5
22

8
6
14
14
12


As for the rest, no second tier candidate broke through in the debates and vaulted into the top tier, or made any sort of move whatsoever. 

·        For all the Night One talk of Julian Castro’s takedown of fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke (and his otherwise solid effort), neither moved an inch nationally.  Perhaps Beto was hurt a bit in Iowa, but Castro made no move, nor did any of the other pundit-rated strong performers.

·        Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, despite decent debates, appeared to go in the wrong direction in Iowa and made no move nationally.  Both have squandered the early advantage they had with at least some degree of name recognition (relative to most of the field), and Klobuchar, in particular, has also missed an opportunity to bite a chunk from Biden in the “centrist/moderate” lane of the party.

·        And, having been given a first opportunity to raise their profiles, none of the other 11 candidates on stage capitalized, remaining unknown and unloved in both Iowa and in national polls.

·        And the three who were left off the stage, Wayne Messam, Seth Moulton and Steve Bullock, might have benefited more from the swirl around their exclusion than if they have been on the stage, though that is surely conjecture; they did not move either.

So, we remain with five and only five top tier candidates.  Each of the five merged with a major question they need to answer:

·        Biden:  Can he significantly sharpen his game and hold the line in the African American community?  Though Biden was not as severely damaged as commonly perceived, he is falling back to the pack and needs to stop the bleeding.  His post-debate performance has been more encouraging, but, still, he does not inspire any confidence that he can suddenly turn into a presidential campaigning dynamo. 

·        Harris:  Can she develop more consistency in both her policies and her performance?  In the aftermath of the debates, Harris waffled on her own positions on busing (essentially stating a position that seemed to sound strikingly similar to Biden’s, that it was a local matter), and also on Medicare For All – she was one of the “hand raisers” in the debate when the candidates were asked point blank if they supported it, but was equivocating, or at least dissembling, the next day.  And she needs to demonstrate that she can maintain the energy and clarity of her debating style in the months ahead.

·        Warren:  Does her upward momentum have a natural ceiling within the party? Perhaps she was dealt a poor hand by appearing at the Night One “kiddie table” and thus could not display her policy chops and overall articulation directly against her major competitors.  But it is surprising that her performance did not translate into a rise in the polls -- perhaps all those far left positions, so stridently articulated, are indeed scaring off mainstream Dems and marginalizing her appeal.

·        Sanders:  Is Bernie done?  The Iowa poll is scary.  Single digit support in Iowa cannot be helpful, and the rise of Warren and Harris appear to have done more harm to Bernie than to Biden.  Bernie needs some sort of catalyst to re-energize his appeal.

·        Buttigieg:  Can he make inroads to the African-American community and get some votes?  The forecast here is not favorable.  Biden can draw on a long track record, especially his eight years with Barack Obama; Harris can claim this segment as her own; and Warren and Sanders both espouse appealing far-left policies to this segment.   Buttigieg is starting in a hole and has no easy way up, apart from the strength of his natural empathy and poise. 

SHOW ME THE MONEY

One thing Pete has going for him: he is a fundraising superstar.  Despite his fifth-place standing, Pete raised $24 million in the quarter, leading the field.  Joe Biden could argue that by raising about $22 million in just two-plus months (after his launch, when the official reporting begins), he wins if you extrapolate.  Sanders and Warren both had solid quarters, though Bernie dropped versus Q1 while Warren gained, neatly mirroring their poll standing.  And while Harris slipped a bit, the debate, which occurred late in the quarter, should help that considerably.

Fundraising         ($ Millions)
1Q 2019
2Q 2019
Buttigieg
7.0
24.8
Biden
n/a
21.5
Warren
6.0
19.1
Sanders
18.2
18.0
Harris
12.0
12.0


WHO CAN BEAT TRUMP?

Democrats have indicated in polling that they are more likely to back the candidate they think is most likely to beat Trump, rather than the one that best matches their own views, by roughly a 2/1 margin.

There have been two head-to-head post-debate polls pitting Trump versus each of the top tier Dems, and the results continue to show Biden at the head of the class versus Trump and the others struggling.  This is an ominous sign for those Dems who want to see fresh faces and/or major progressive ideas at the top of the ticket. 


ABC/WaPo
Emerson
Trump Versus:
Jun 28 - Jul 1
Jul 6-8
Biden
Biden +10
Biden +6
Sanders
Sanders +1
Sanders +2
Harris
Harris +2
Trump +2
Warren
Tie
Trump +2
Buttigieg
Tie
Trump +2

To win the nomination, Biden has to reassure the left that he is squarely on their side on the great issues of our time.  But if he fails, and someone else is nominated, they will have to reassure America that the change they represent is not too extreme.

And here is one more poll of note, from Public Policy Polling (PPP), a highly reputable polling group with a sense of humor.  And if you don’t know who Megan Rapinoe is, wake up!

Pres. Preference
%
Rapinoe
42%
Trump
41%

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