Swing State Pres

Saturday, November 30, 2019

BTRTN: Baby We Were Born To Run

Tom and Steve were indeed born to run!  And here are the numbers:  they tied for second in their "age group" and took home the medals!  Tom's daughter Allie did well, too!  And note the t-shirts on all three!

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Thursday, November 21, 2019

BTRTN: Incoming, Outgoing? Cool Pete Can Take the Heat, While Joe Blows His Toes Off


No doubt many passionate progressives spent all yesterday in front of the tv riveted to the stunning impeachment testimony. Perhaps they grew weary and turned off the Dem debate after a wonky first hour. If so, let Steve tell you what you missed in the contentious and consequential final hour. 

The next Presidential election is eleven months away. The first caucus votes won’t be cast until the second month of next year. 

Yep, you got it… it is  time for most Democratic candidates to panic.

They are running out of time to change the now-hardening narratives, and the stress is showing.

Each of the candidates went into last night’s debate with a clear objective. Each knew they had to execute against that plan with precision. 

Amy Klobuchar had to build on her strong performance in the last debate and try to squeeze her way into the top tier. This meant selling the concept of a centrist candidate while simultaneously explaining why the two centrist candidates ahead of her in the polls were not the best centrists. It meant slowing Mayor Pete’s Iowa stampede so that she could still see some daylight if and when old Joe finally runs out of gas. A very tall order.

Since the last debate, Elizabeth Warren’s momentum – effervescent and seemingly unstoppable during the four-hour selfie line in Washington Square Park back in September – has been slowed to a crawl by her tone-deaf healthcare plan.  It was assumed that she would once again spend the evening straining under white-hot scrutiny of a Medicare for All plan that is of grave concern to a party that primarily wants to beat Donald Trump.  

The impending arrival of Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick was nothing if not a signal to Joe Biden that is perceived to be vulnerable.  Biden had to dramatically step up his game. He needed to appear presidential: calm, strong, knowledgeable, and in command… not the grimacing, glib, and garbled Grandpa Faux Pas of the prior debates.
  
For Bernie Sanders, the task was clear: he needed to explain why this campaign needs an older, crankier, male version of Elizabeth Warren, because he is beginning to look to all the world like a guy who just wants to bring a fistful of chips to a brokered convention.

Tom Steyer, Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker needed to explain why their candidacies have utterly failed to light a fire, and – harder still -- convince us that it still could happen.  

And Pete Buttigieg knew that as a result of his recent meteoric rise in Iowa, he might spend the evening at the center of the bullseye, the implicit or explicit target of many other candidates.  

Given the stakes, the debate was remarkably low key for the first hour and well into the second.

The only real explosion during in this period of the debate was the extremely contentious exchange between Tulsi Gabbard and Kamala Harris, signaling the beginning of an incredibly bad evening for Ms. Gabbard. The Congresswoman from Hawaii, who makes her own service central to a broad opposition to military intervention, dissed Hillary Clinton as simply a continuum of poor foreign policy that began with George W. Bush and continues through Trump. Harris countered that Gabbard had spent the Obama years as a frequent Fox News guest criticizing the popular President. It’s hard to think of a more efficient way to crush a Democratic candidate than to link her to both Fox News and opposition to Obama in the same sentence.

Other than this skirmish, the first hour of the debate was a long stretch of civility, with no shouting, and none of the Bill de Blasio-style interruptions that made the first few debates look like recess at an elementary school. There was not even all that much emotion. It was largely a bunch of wonks doing good wonk at a world-class wonk-fest. 

For that first hour, the four leading candidates – Biden, Warren, Sanders, or Buttigieg – were all solid. Their supporters no doubt felt that their candidate stood out. In truth, none of them really did… again, for the first hour.

Amy Klobuchar continued her strong debate performance, leavening her aggressive challenges with a well-tuned sense of humor. She had another strong night, and may indeed have fueled a continued upward rise in her polling. Klobuchar took the battle to Buttigieg on the issue of experience and getting legislation passed, and took it to Biden on his claim of superior electability:

I am the one that has passed over a hundred bills as the lead Democrat in that gridlock of Washington in Congress on this stage. I think you've got to win. And I am the one, Mr. Vice President, that has been able to win every red and purple congressional district as a lead on a ticket every time. I govern both with my head and my heart. And if you think a woman can't beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every single day.

Indeed, in the first hour and a half, the performances that stood out were by Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer, who each leveraged their careers outside of government to provide truly fresh perspective.  Steyer offered broad perspective on the determinative role that housing plays in economic destiny, and claimed to be the only candidate on the stage who would make the climate crisis the highest priority of his administration. Yang proved adept at marketing his unconventional policy solutions, and demonstrated a sharp wit:

Moderator: Mr. Yang, if you win the 2020 election, what would you say in your first call with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Yang: Well, first, I'd say I'm sorry I beat your guy.

Then it all changed.

The initial trigger may have been when Kamala Harris was asked to comment upon a criticism she had made of Pete Buttigieg:

Moderator: “Senator Harris, this week, you criticized Mayor Pete Buttigieg's outreach to African-American voters. You said, quote, ‘The Democratic nominee has got to be someone who has the experience of connecting with all of who we are, as the diversity of the American people,’ end quote. What exactly prompted you to say that, Senator Harris?”

Harris spoke passionately about the core of the Democratic party being African American female voters, and about how many candidates seemed to only focus on this group when they were asking for their vote. While Harris made clear that she harbored no ill will toward Buttigieg, her response squarely placed the issue of the role of African-American voters center stage. 

Harris: “Well, I was asked a question that related to a stock photograph that his campaign published. But, listen, I think that it really speaks to a larger issue, and I'll speak to the larger issue. I believe that the mayor has made apologies for that.

The larger issue is that for too long I think candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party and have overlooked those constituencies and have -- you know, they show up when it's, you know, close to election time and show up in a black church and want to get the vote, but just haven't been there before.

I mean, you know, the -- there are plenty of people who applauded black women for the success of the 2018 election, applauded black women for the election of a senator from Alabama. But, you know, at some point, folks get tired of just saying, oh, you know, thank me for showing up and -- and say, well, show up for me.”

Buttigieg was clearly prepared for a question about his relationship with the African American community. True to his contrarian style, he began his response by agreeing with Harris. He cited common ground with the plight of African Americans and other minorities by virtue of his own sexual orientation. He addressed the issue with humility, grace, and an acknowledgement that he needed to continue to build his relationship with African Americans. It was an elegant, thoughtful, and emotionally revealing answer. 

Buttigieg: "My response is, I completely agree. And I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don't yet know me. And before I share what's in my plans, let me talk about what's in my heart and why this is so important. As mayor of a city that is racially diverse and largely low income, for eight years, I have lived and breathed the successes and struggles of a community where far too many people live with the consequences of racial inequity that has built-up over centuries but been compounded by policies and decisions from within living memory…

And I care about this because, while I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country, turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate, and seeing my rights expanded by a coalition of people like me and people not at all like me, working side by side, shoulder to shoulder, making it possible for me to be standing here. Wearing this wedding ring in a way that couldn't have happened two elections ago lets me know just how deep my obligation is to help those whose rights are on the line every day, even if they are nothing like me in their experience."

Pause for a moment and consider the last two paragraphs. This is not a quote of a written response, it is a verbatim transcript of an answer given spontaneously in the moment. No "uhs" or "ums," just fully fleshed out paragraphs delivered on cue in real time. On this stage -- and perhaps in his generation of politicians -- Buttigieg is without equal as an orator.

Once the issue of the African American vote was on the table, it did not go away.

Cory Booker jumped in, taking the same issue to Joe Biden. 

"I wanted to return back to this issue of black voters. I have a lifetime of experience with black voters; I've been one since I was 18. Nobody on this stage should need a focus group to hear from African-American voters. Black voters are pissed off, and they're worried. They're pissed off because the only time our issues seem to be really paid attention to by politicians is when people are looking for their vote. And they're worried because the Democratic Party, we don't want to see people miss this opportunity and lose because we are nominating someone that doesn't -- isn't trusted, doesn't have authentic connection...

"And so that's what's on the ballot. And issues do matter. I have a lot of respect for the vice president. He has sworn me into my office as a hero. This week, I hear him literally say that I don't think we should legalize marijuana. I thought you might have been high when you said it. And let me tell you, because -- because marijuana -- marijuana -- marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people. And it's -- the war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people."

Yet again, Joe Biden seemed to be taken off his stride when the subject of a direct challenge. Once again, at exactly the wrong moment, and on exactly the wrong issue, the good ship Gaffe Spree set sail with Madcap Joe Biden at the helm.  Biden hurriedly ticked off his bona fides in the African-American community, reaching a crescendo with his assertion that he had the endorsement of “the only female African American Senator.” 

Open mouth, insert foot. Then ankle. Go ahead, get the calf. Now the knee. Half of thigh. There is putting your foot in your mouth, and then there is committing hari-kari though auto-cannibalization.

What Joe had meant to say was the “first” African-American female Senator (that would be Carol Mosely-Brown of Illinois), but, yes, Joe said the “only” when the person just a few feet away on his left was actually an African American female Senator… the woman who had just moments before said that African American women were the “forgotten” core of the Democratic Party. Oh, no, Joe. Say it ain't so. 

As the audience exploded in laughter, Biden looked up, puzzled, not-so-dear in the headlights, not even aware of his own gaffe. It was a shame, because up until that moment, Biden had had a pretty good night. As we have said for some time, the only person in the world who can truly destroy Joe Biden’s candidacy is Joe Biden… we just did not expect it to be his core skill set.

Now the debate was heating up but good. With time running out, the gloves came off. 

Amy Klobuchar launched a broadside against Pete Buttigieg on the issue of experience, only serving to tee up yet another planned but extremely effective counter-punch from the young mayor:

Klobuchar: “…But just like I have won statewide and mayor, I have all appreciation for your good work as a local official, and you did not when you tried, I also have actually done this work. I think experience should matter…”

Moderator: “Mayor Buttigieg, I'll let you respond to that.”

Buttigieg:  ‘So, first of all, Washington experience is not the only experience that matters. There's more than 100 years of Washington experience on this stage, and where are we right now as a country?”

Then it was Tulsi Gabbard’s turn to take a shot at Buttigieg:

Gabbard: “But I want to get back to Pete Buttigieg and his comments about experience. Pete, you'll agree that the service that we both have provided to our country as veterans by itself does not qualify us to serve as commander-in-chief. I think the most recent example of your inexperience in national security and foreign policy came from your recent careless statement about how you as president would be willing to send our troops to Mexico to fight the cartels…”

Buttigieg: “So I've got to respond to that. I know that it's par for the course in Washington to take remarks out of context, but that is outlandish even by the standards of today's politics. I was talking about U.S.-Mexico cooperation. We've been doing security cooperation with Mexico for years, with law enforcement cooperation and a military relationship that could continue to be developed with training relationships, for example. Do you seriously think anybody on this stage is proposing invading Mexico?”

At this point, the audience howled with laughter at Gabbard. But Buttigieg was not finished.

Buttigieg: “I'm talking about building up -- I'm talking about building up alliances. And if your question is about experience, let's also talk about judgment. One of the foreign leaders you mentioned meeting was Bashar al-Assad. I have in my experience, such as it is, whether you think it counts or not since it wasn't accumulated in Washington, enough judgment that I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that.”

Once Buttigieg was finished eviscerating Gabbard, one had the sense that no one else on the stage felt like trying to take down Mayor Pete. 

In a frenzied final 45 minutes, the narrative of the debate had been dramatically altered. The winners and losers for the evening had become clear.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders can each feel lucky that the MSNBC moderators decided that healthcare – the San Andreas Faultline that defines the border between the progressives and moderates – was discussed for all of two minutes in the debate. It was startling that the moderators moved past this incredibly divisive issue as if it were a debate about changing the state bird of New Jersey. Sanders did most of the heavy lifting on the healthcare discussion, leaving Warren pretty much unscathed for the evening. Ironically, however, the lack of intense debate over healthcare left Warren and Sanders less central to the debate, and often simply giving rote, well-rehearsed answers to less controversial subjects.

Amy Klobuchar had her second consecutive strong debate, and she may stand to gain if there is any further erosion in Biden’s standing. There is often an endearing whiff of desperation in Klobuchar’s oratory, and yet she does a masterful job of timing her pre-planned attack soundbytes – that are often softened with real wit – to maximum effect. We put her squarely in the winning column for the second consecutive debate.

Kamala Harris had a very solid night, speaking with more passion and focus that in the past several debates. It remains to be seen whether she did enough to re-ignite her candidacy, which has faded drastically in the past two months. 

Andrew Yang had a very good night. He is good on his feet, has a quick, dry wit, and he does a very good job of explaining and justifying his out-of-the-box ideas. If any of the bottom feeder candidates got their battery recharged on Wednesday night, it was probably Yang. 

Tulsi Gabbard has managed to earn the antipathy of virtually everyone on the stage, as was evident in facial expressions of disgust and dismissal evident on Mayor Pete and Kamala Harris when they each disdainfully dismantled her. I find myself puzzled by Gabbard, who seems intent on conquering the extreme right wing of the Democratic Party, which, uh, does not exist. 

Tom Steyer had a good amount of screen time in that all-important first hour, but he receded from view once the punches started flying. We like Mr. Steyer, but there is something decidedly tone-deaf about having a billionaire spending hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to convince people that he is in touch with the needs of the common people. Perhaps Michael Bloomberg could learn from this and put his wallet back in his pocket.  

Once again, however, Pete Buttigieg seemed to be flying at a slightly higher altitude than his competition. Pete is so shrewd about picking his battles: when challenged by Kamala Harris, he knew to be deferential, and agreeable… keenly aware that being respectful to the African American woman on the stage was absolutely essential to his need to building his relationship with the African-American community. But when taking incoming from the unpopular Tulsi Gabbard, Buttigieg saw the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that he can be a velociraptor with ‘tood. 

By and large, however, his gift is fitting a diagnosis of societal ills and a coherent corrective policy proposal into an uplifting and inspiration one minute debate response. 

Pete Buttigieg is emerging as the candidate for the Instagram generation, conveying everything you need to know in the instant that he is scrolling down your feed. Perhaps most interesting: as he continues his rise, one would expect him to become more and more of a target in these debates. But he is so stunningly good at parrying attacks that his rivals on stage may not want to risk triggering one of his devastating counterpunches.

Joe Biden really did have a perfectly good night... except for that brief senior moment that may have sunk the Gaffe Spree once and for all. 

Here's how we grade the candidates for the evening.

Winners:

Buttigieg
Klobuchar
Yang

Held Serve:

Sanders
Warren
Booker
Harris
Steyer

Lost ground: 

Biden

Put Out of Her Misery:

Gabbard





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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

BTRTN: Republican Impeachment Defense Release 13.0... “Who Cares, The Senate is Not Going to Convict, so Screw You, Democrats.”


With each new day, each new witness, and each new loony rationale for seeing no evil, the true Republican defense strategy is becoming clear. Steve urges the Democrats to call it for what it is and do something about it. Now.

Total bummer

I just went on Amazon and found out that there has been another delay in Release 13.0, the new, latest, most up-to-date Republican impeachment defense strategy. Apparently the Republicans are going to wait until E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland testifies, so that they can once again tweak, modify, or completely change their line of defense to adjust to new revelations from his testimony. 

I am really eager to get the latest release, because they say it will correct a bunch of those buggy patches that made Lindsay Graham appear more twisted than a DNA chromosome. For those of you who are not on the group chat for the software de-bugger, here’s a quick recap of the releases to date:

Release One: “It was a perfect phone call.”

Release Two: “It was not only a perfect phone call, there was no quid pro quo!”

Release Three: “We can’t believe that the Democrats are doing all this in private, denying the President his rights of due process!”

Release Four: “Ok, there was a quid pro quo, but it was still a perfect phone call because the quid pro quo was about corruption in the Ukraine in general… not specifically about the Bidens.”

Release Five (also known as “The Mulvaney Massacre”): “Get over it. Of course there was a quid pro quo, and of course it was about the Bidens. You naïve, sniveling journalists should know that we do that kind of stuff all the time. There will always be politics in diplomacy.”

Release Six was the abrupt and immediate withdrawal of Release Five from the market.

Release Seven: “We can’t believe that the Democrats are doing this all in public, and it is obviously a charade by deep state actors bent on a coup to reverse the 2016 election!”

Release Eight: “None of the deep state bureaucrats who are testifying have first hand knowledge of the events. It is all hearsay.” (This release was somewhat mysteriously accompanied by an additional software patch that simultaneously argued that “of course we cannot allow any of the first hand witnesses to testify, because the president is correct to assert that no one in the executive branch is obligated to obey a Congressional subpoena.”)

Release Nine (also known as the “Lindsey Hops”): “I am not even going to read the depositions and I am not going to even watch the public testimony because it is all so, uh, un-American. Furthermore, it is  impossible to bring this case forward fairly without us knowing who the whistleblower is and having a chance to cross-examine about any biases. If the Democrats don’t call the whistleblower to testify in public in the House, this thing is dead on arrival in the Senate. In short, if the Democrats don’t do the one thing that I am certain they won’t do – expose the whistleblower – then the whole inquiry is invalid.”

Release Ten (also known as the “Nikki Haley Mary”): “Ok, ok, ok… there was a quid pro quo, and it was about the Bidens, but the funds were ultimately released and Ukraine did not do an investigation, so how can you say that there is any problem? You know... no actual fully executing criminal act of extortion, no foul.”

Release Eleven: “Ok, ok, ok,…. There was a quid pro quo, and it was about Joe Biden, and who cares how many deep state never-Trump bureaucrats testify about it, but it only happened that one little time on one little phone call, and it’s not a big deal, like, uh, it’s certainly not worthy of impeachment.”

Release Twelve: “Uh, ok, ok, ok, ok! Maybe it wasn’t just that one little time, but that there actually was an alternative shadow diplomatic channel that applied constant pressure on the new Ukraine leadership over a four month period during which it was made crystal clear that U.S. military aid would not be released until the Ukraine President Zelensky made a public statement that his government was investigating both the Bidens and the discredited conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine and not Russia that meddled in the 2016 Presidential election. So what? What’s your point?”

Now you know why I am so excited! I think that in Release Thirteen, we are finally going to get to the bottom of the Republican Impeachment defense. The internet is just glowing with rumors that it reads like this:

Release Thirteen: “Um, uh, how’s this, Democrats? The reason that Donald Trump should not be impeached is, uh, go screw yourselves! Yes, you heard right. Go screw yourselves! The Senate is never going to convict, the base doesn’t give a crap, Fox News says whatever we tell them to, so, um, you can just stuff it. Therefore, we Senate Republicans hereby declare that nothing Donald Trump has done, is doing, or will ever do is impeachable. We can vote right now. We have enough votes to acquit Trump, and we have already made up our minds, no matter what evidence might emerge.”

Well, there you have it! That’s it, folks! We have finally arrived at the complex legal reasoning that forms the strategy behind the Republican impeachment defense. As long as the Republicans believe that the Senators will generally vote along party lines in a Senate trial, they can make up a new story every day for why Trump should not be impeached. They don’t have to be consistent, they don’t have to have a line in the sand, and no matter how much smoke is pouring out of the barrel of a gun, the Republicans have already determined the outcome.

What’s really interesting about this defense is that it actually works in a stunning array of contexts. Do you think that the Mueller Report found grounds for impeachment on obstruction of justice? Release 13.0 full addresses the legal nuances of your argument! Think Trump committed witness tampering by tweeting about former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in the middle of her testimony? I think Release 13.0 pretty much squashes that argument like a bug!

Abuse of Presidential power? Bribery? Extortion? Do any of those crimes really have a chance against Republican Release 13.0?

I don’t think so. 

Not if the Democrats don’t start learning how to play hardball. 

Dems, there is one war going on in the House Impeachment Inquiry, and Adam Schiff is doing a great job leading that. Good for Schiff for playing it straight and narrow. He is a principled man, and he is savvy enough to know that he must run hearings that are not only measured and fair, but are perceived to be measured and fair. He is doing his job.

But there is a second front in this war, and it is being played out in the court of public opinion, and it is here that the Democrats need to step up their game. Dramatically.

The simple fact of the matter is that there is only one thing that will make Republicans in the Senate even begin to contemplate voting for the impeachment of Donald Trump. And that is that if they see public opinion begin to shift in significant measure. If Republicans feel that public opinion – and Congressional seats – will be at increased risk by supporting the acquittal of the President, they will have to think twice.

So the court of public opinion is actually even more important than what is happening inside Congress.

Republicans generally do a much better job of focusing pro-actively on shaping public opinion. Democrats tend to think that once the truth and the facts get out, the public will see the light. It is a terribly naïve perspective. Republicans take no chances. They aggressively tell their party faithful exactly what to believe before, during, and after the emergence of facts. If the facts don't align with the narrative, they don't change the narrative, they ignore, distort, or change the "facts," often simply manufacturing "alternative" ones. They pre-package a full story and sell it as settled law. Ask William Barr how it works: “The Mueller Report says that there was no collusion and no obstruction. Case closed.”

The Democrats need to start aggressively communicating their narrative of the Ukraine narrative, and – more specifically – the Senate trial itself, and they must have a strategy for reaching a mass audience.  

We can all already see where this is going. The Republicans are going to do, say, and claim anything to justify a vote for acquittal. Democrats need to get out ahead of this story, trace it to the obvious and logical end point of its trajectory, and start litigating that outcome now. 

Democrats must begin making the argument today about where we will be two months from now in a Senate trial. Democrats must point out today what Republicans intend to do, and vehemently begin to attack those positions now.  

There are three keys to this.

Democrats must immediately begin aggressively challenging the Republican contention that Trump’s actions do not constitute an impeachable offense. We already can surmise that many Senate Republicans will try to thread a needle in which they acknowledge some wrongdoing by Trump, but justify a vote to acquit by saying that the wrongdoing “does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.” 

When articles of impeachment are drafted, Donald Trump will stand accused of spending months orchestrating an intense campaign to put the screws on a vulnerable, newly elected leader of a small, vulnerable foreign country by withholding vital, tax-payer funding of military aid with the absolutely clear intent on manufacturing manure with which to smear his chief political rival.

In fact, this is a far more brutal abuse of power than the Watergate affair that ended Richard Nixon’s presidency, for these reasons:

Nixon attempted to influence the outcome of the 1972 election by using political campaign funds to pay domestic political operatives to commit and cover up the theft of campaign information on his political opponent.

Trump attempted to influence the outcome of the 2020 election by using U.S. taxpayer money, in the form of vital military aid, to blackmail a foreign government, forcing it to manufacture dirt on a political rival.

By these measure, Trump’s transgressions are every bit, and by any reasonable reckoning, more of a violation of his oath of office than Nixon’s. Nixon resigned because he was told that his Republican support in the Senate had evaporated… that he was certain to be impeached. It was an open and shut case… and so is Trump’s.

Indeed, as Schiff framed the question: if this is not an impeachable offense, what indeed is? Democrats should pick up this mantra and use every opportunity to demand that their Republican colleagues define a scenario that they would view as impeachable… and  then measure Trump’s proven actions against that standard.

Democrats must do a far better job of branding Republican hypocrisy: “Would you vote to impeach if Barack Obama had done what Donald Trump has done?” It is surprising to me that the Democrats have not been vastly more aggressive in invoking the most obvious measure of Republican hypocrisy: if Barack Obama had done any of the acts of obstruction of justice cited in the Mueller Report, of any of the actions that have been already conceded as fact in the Ukraine scandal, Republicans would have wasted not a moment to launch an impeachment. Democrats must become far more assertive, far more repetitive, and far more outraged in pointing out the hypocrisy of the Republicans who are now defending Donald Trump.

Literally, Democrats must force the issue: if the names were changed in the transcript of the Zelensky phone call, and Barack Obama were the President and Donald Trump was the political opponent, would Republicans have given Obama a free pass?

If Barack Obama held up a military appropriation approved by Congress to aid an ally in order to force that ally to produce dirt on Donald Trump, it is unfathomable that any Republican would have really said, “Oh, that’s just Obama being Obama. No big deal. Let it go!”

Frankly, this may well be the best way to frame the fact that the Senate Republicans are acting wholly as partisans. How, indeed, would they have reacted if the political parties in this drama were precisely reversed?

Democrats must lay the groundwork now for demanding that Republican Senators do their job as honest jurors. Of all of the flawed “software releases” that we’ve been hearing from Republicans, the one that bugs me the most is Lindsey Graham, who has openly dismissed the impeachment inquiry and stated that he will not listen to testimony or read transcripts. Moreover, he has stated that if the House does not force the whistleblower to testify publicly, then any articles of impeachment will be “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

The level of cynicism and deceit in Graham’s cracks is sad to see. He knows full well that the testimony of the whistleblower is at this point literally superfluous: all of the allegations in the whistleblower complaint have long since been validated and indeed expanded upon by corroborating witnesses and the transcript itself.

Demanding such testimony is utterly disingenuous: Graham knows that the Democrats will never violate the spirit and law of the Whistleblower Act, and never force the whistleblower to testify.

But nothing – nothing – makes it more clear that the Republicans have already made up their minds than the very fact that Graham has announced that he will not listen to evidence.

Great debaters do not allow the opponent to define the essential issue of the debate. They attack the premise, and redefine it on terms that enable the audience to reframe the discussion.

In this case, Democrats should certainly continue to rebut each new software release, but do so through a larger perspective. Democrats must make the point that the Republicans have already decided that they will not vote to convict Donald Trump under any circumstances, and that they therefore are utterly failing in their role as jurors.

If a judge in an ordinary criminal case heard a juror say that he did not intend to listen to a word of evidence, then the judge would throw that individual out of the jury room. 

There is only one thing that works against Release 13.0.

And that is for the Democrats to start calling Republican behavior for the crap that it is. Starting now.

It is time for all the Democrats who are not directly involved in these hearings to make the case: no matter what the evidence indicates, the Republicans are going to bluff, fake, hide, and obfuscate, all in an effort to rope-a-dope until the Senate actually takes a vote.

And the Democrats have to start making that the issue.

Have some fun with it, Dems.

Remember that person on Fifth Avenue that Trump was going to shoot with impunity?

Make the point that Lindsey Graham would turn his eyes away from that, too.

William Barr would say that, as President, it is Donald Trump’s right to shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue.

Jim Jordan would say that the entire matter was a sham because all accounts of the shooting were from people who did not witness it first hand, and then Donald Trump would issue an order that anyone who did see it first hand were not allowed to testify. 
 
Go at it, Democrats! You must begin making the case now that the Republicans have already decided that they intentionally hiding the truth and hiding from the truth.

That they are simply trying to run out the clock until they can finally take the vote in the Senate that will enable them to end the impeachment saga.
  
That they would not vote to impeach Donald Trump under any circumstances, ever.
 
Make fun of them.

Taunt them.

Ask them to define what this president would have to do in order to get them to vote to impeach.

Go ahead… go on the floor of the House and read the entire list of Trump’s abuses of power, and finally ask them once and for all… if Barack Obama had done one single item on this list, wouldn’t Republicans have voted to impeach him instantly?

Call them hypocrites. Out loud. 
 
Go on the offensive. 

And hey, Lindsey Graham, you disgraceful coward, we're ready for your B.S., and we're gonna call you on it. Just try to sell your sniveling little soul hawking Release 13.0.  




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Monday, November 18, 2019

BTRTN 2020 Vision: Changing of the Guard? Pete Ascendant as Warren Flattens in a Wide Open Race

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-October to mid-November:

Image result for 2020 vision·        It’s a four-candidate race in Iowa, with Pete Buttigieg nudging ahead of the field, followed  (very) closely by Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden    and Bernie Sanders. 

·        But recent polls show that Warren’s upward dash    in Iowa and New Hampshire may have peaked,     as she comes under attack for her “Medicare for All” policy, which is now defining her campaign (oddly, since it is the only policy plan that she did not author herself, instead she endorsed Sanders’ plan).

·        Biden continues to show resiliency in the face of an uneven run, maintaining the same lead in the national polls he has enjoyed for months, still holding at roughly 30% of Democrats.  He also continues to be the strongest candidate versus Trump in head-to-head polling, particularly in the key red states that must be flipped on the “path to 270” in 2020.

·        Those rumblings of dissatisfaction with the state of the field you heard turned out to be the footsteps of Deval Patrick, who entered the race, and Mike Bloomberg, who met a filing deadline for Alabama, though remains undeclared.

·        Heretofore minor candidates are showing the slightest signs of life here and there, and our eyes are on Amy Klobuchar – is she entering the radar screen in Iowa?


THE FIELD

The Democratic field lost two candidates, notably Beto O’Rourke and, less notably, Mike Ryan, to winnow the field to 17, but then added Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts.  So we are now at 18, still a remarkably unwieldy number at this juncture.  And Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of New York City, met a filing deadline for early primaries and indicated a full decision to enter the race would be made quite soon.  Both indicated they would likely skip Iowa, and Bloomberg might actually take a pass on all four early races and make a play for Super Tuesday.

The Republican field, such as it is, dwindled from four to three with the departure of Mark Sanford, the former Governor of South Carolina.

A full list of the current field appears at the end of this article.


THE MONTH

The race, with 77 days to go before the Iowa caucuses, is wide, wide open.  The “top tier” contenders in Iowa are bunched within seven percentage points, and yet another new face, Pete Buttigieg, is at the top of the polls.  If Iowa is wide open, then so is the entire race.

But that’s not all.  Might some of the other candidates, long plodding in the nether regions of polling, be making moves, at long last?  Amy Klobuchar has hit the 5% mark in Iowa, a modest milestone, to be sure, but perhaps indicative of an opening for her in the “moderate” lane.  Andrew Yang has hit 4% in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and Tom Steyer has done the same in South Carolina.

And who knows…Deval Patrick could make a mark in neighboring (from his home base in Massachusetts) New Hampshire.  And then there is Mike Bloomberg, unannounced and with no real toehold in the crowded field, but a big-name billionaire with strong moderate credentials.

The Democrats have not had a race this wide open since 1992, when the virtual unknown Bill Clinton took the nomination, after having won neither Iowa (which went to favorite son Tom Harkin) nor New Hampshire (which went to next-door Senator Paul Tsongas).

Let’s take a look at the frontrunners.

Pete Buttigieg has jumped to the lead in Iowa, based on three recent polls by respectable pollsters.  (Keep in mind that polls in Iowa do not translate to outcomes as easily as in primary states, because the caucus process is so cumbersome compared to traditional primary balloting.)  Pete is benefitting from his own effortless acumen and charisma, in both the debates and on the campaign trail.  He has focused like a laser on Iowa, which has helped, and he is a fundraising darling.  And, perhaps most importantly, he has positioned himself successfully as a viable alternative to the aging, gaffe-prone Biden and the probably-too-bold-for-the-Midwest Warren (and Sanders).  Pete’s Achilles’ heel remains his lukewarm (at best) support in the African-American community, a weakness that will not be revealed in either lily-white Iowa or New Hampshire but could hurt him down the road.

Elizabeth Warren just may have peaked too soon.  Her electric run straight up the polls over the last six months has ended in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and she has made no progress – at all – against Biden in South Carolina and not much in Nevada.  Warren’s dream is a “knockout blow,” to win both Iowa and neighboring New Hampshire, but her policies may prove too hot for either of these purplish states.  The best issue for the Democrats – the one that fueled their 2018 House-flipping blue wave – is health care, and Warren’s call for Medicare for All is, at best, an unneeded complication, and at worse, a scary vote-repelling alternative in the swing states the Democrats need to win in a general election.  Clearly, having earned the frontrunner spotlight over the past few months, she took some heat (Klobuchar landing solidly in the latest debate), and doubt is emerging that her bold (and expensive) progressive policies are right for the times.

Joe Biden continues to show modest declines in Iowa and New Hampshire but resiliency in Nevada and his personal firewall in South Carolina.  Is “comfortable Joe” in fact everyone’s Plan B at this point, the one who might only be embraced once others are carefully examined and discarded?  We have all known Joe Biden for years, whereas the other candidates, even Bernie Sanders, are relatively new.  They are undergoing intense examination now and will be found either appealing or lacking.  If they pass the scrutiny, they will soar past Biden, but if they falter, he is there, as always, a ready, willing, capable, experienced and likable centrist nominee.  Biden’s strongest credential is his “electability,” as demonstrated by his head-to-head polling versus Trump, which continues to lead the field both nationally and in the swing states.  And from an early state strategy standpoint, he needs to survive intact until South Carolina, where he remains dominant due to African-American support.  Joe needs a Top Three finish in both Iowa and New Hampshire, at the very least, and he can perhaps even get away with a tightly bunched fourth-place finish (New Hampshire is Sanders and Warren country).

As for Bernie Sanders, the good news is that he emerged from his heart attack more or less intact.  He is doing better physically (feeling better than ever and taking better care of himself on the trail) and surprisingly well in the polls, where he has shown no slippage.  The problem is, he has never been able to expand his support beyond his exuberant core, and he still trails Warren in the progressive “lane.”  And it is difficult to see how he changes either dynamic, in particular as progressive boldness is being challenged.  New Hampshire is looming as a showdown between the two progressive neighbors, Warren and Sanders.

Other candidates are showing signs of life.  Amy Klobuchar, as noted, had a terrific performance in the last debate, finally giving a coherent counter to Warren’s in-your-face let’s-dream-big policy pitch.  If Klobuchar is going to make a move, this is the time.  Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang are the non-politician curiosities in the field, and they too are showing signs of life.  So too is the mysterious Tulsi Gabbard, whom Hillary Clinton inexplicably brought to the headlines by suggesting the Russians were grooming her for a third-party run.  Gabbard was slow to support impeachment, and seems to be carving out a niche of support among conservative Democrats – an exceedingly small, nearly oxymoronic group, but a toehold, nonetheless.

Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Julian Castro have all pretty much been forgotten.  Harris’s numbers have dropped across the board, Booker’s as well except for South Carolina, and Castro will not even be on the stage for the next debate.  Castro has sunk to the levels of Michael Bennet, Steve Bullock, John Delaney, Marian Williamson and Joe Sestak, who all carry on for no sensible reason.

Deval Patrick entered the race but it is hard to see him making a dent.  While his political base of Massachusetts is next door to New Hampshire, he will have to battle Warren and Sanders for home field advantage and, needless to say, they have strong head starts.  And his deep ties to Bain Capital, and to corporate life in general, do not bode well in these progressive times. 

Michael Bloomberg has wealth, a solid track record, and a centrist positioning, but he is essentially a man without a party.  While Donald Trump, another billionaire (perhaps) who has dabbled in all parties, found a way to hijack the GOP for his purposes, it is hard to see Bloomberg doing the same with the Democrats (no matter how often he denounces his own Dem-detested “stop and frisk” policy).  His 2% showing in Iowa polls, and 4% nationally, are not indicative of a party viewing him as their savior.  And his strategy of dumping the early states and making his bid on Super Tuesday is dubious, to say the least.  Camping out in Nevada and saturating its airwaves might be the better approach.

There is an upcoming debate on November 20 in Atlanta, and ten candidates have qualified:  the Big Four plus Booker, Gabbard, Harris, Klobuchar, Steyer and Yang.  They are running out of time to make a difference, and you may see them turning their sites on Mayor Pete – a difficult target and one who has demonstrated a smooth and effective counterpunch already.

Despairing Democrats, who fear this set of candidates does not have what it takes to take down Trump, should take heart in the outcomes of the few elections that were held in November.  The Democrats, astonishingly, defeated the incumbent Republican Governor of deep red Kentucky, the widely (and wildly) disliked Matt Bevin; flipped both chambers of the Virginia Legislature to achieve a trifecta in that increasingly blue state; defended another Deep South gubernatorial seat in Louisiana by re-electing John Bel Edwards; and across the country, in particular Pennsylvania, made blue inroads in local elections.  These elections, along with prior special elections in 2017, 2018 and 2019 as well as the midterms, all point to a repudiation of Donald Trump.  This long-running performance needs a grand finale on November 3, 2020.


THE NUMBERS

Iowa:  Pete takes his turn at the top; Warren stumbles under harsh scrutiny of Medicare for All; Biden slips a nit again; Sanders holds serve after his heart attack; Klobuchar takes a small step up to the 5% mark.  The top four are quite bunched and the race is truly wide open.

Average of Iowa Polls
Candidates
J/A/S (7)
Oct  (5)
Nov (3)
Buttigieg
9
14
22
Warren
19
22
18
Biden
24
19
17
Sanders
14
15
15
Klobuchar
4
3
5
Harris
9
4
3
Steyer
2
2
3
Gabbard
1
2
3
Yang
2
2
3

New Hampshire:  Biden, Warren and Sanders are tied, with Pete on the rise, and Gabbard and Yang show strengthening pulses.

Nevada:  Biden remains ahead, with Warren and Bernie now tied for second.  Pete is moving up, and Steyer and Yang show modest signs of life.

South Carolina.  Still a Biden stronghold, with no real movement by the others, except perhaps Steyer and Booker (who is focusing here at this point).  Pete is actually fading here, a troubling sign for him.
(Note the columns on these charts vary from state to state, depending upon the availability of polls.)

Average of NH Polls

Nevada Polls

Average of South Carolina Polls
Candidates
J/A/S (11)
Early Oct (2)
Lt.O/ Nov (2)

Candidates
A/M/J (2)
J/A/S (5)
Nov (3)

Candidates
A/M/J (3)
J/A/S (8)
Oct (5)
Biden
23
24
18

Biden
31
25
28

Biden
43
40
39
Warren
19
29
17

Warren
15
16
20

Warren
11
15
13
Sanders
18
20
17

Sanders
18
20
19

Sanders
14
14
12
Buttigieg
8
8
13

Buttigieg
6
4
7

Harris
9
6
5
Gabbard
3
2
5

Harris
8
7
4

Steyer
0
2
4
Yang
2
3
4

Steyer
n/a
3
4

Booker
4
2
4
Harris
8
5
3

Yang
3
2
4

Buttigieg
8
4
2
Steyer
2
3
3






Klobuchar
2
2
3











National.   The picture looks more stable on the national level.  Buttigieg is making very modest progress but likely needs the exposure of an Iowa win (or even Top Three finish) to break through.  Biden has stabilized, Warren flattened after a six-month rise, and Sanders has been undisturbed by either his health issue or the publicity around it.  No one else is showing any movement at the national level – to the extent that matters.  The real challenge is to make an impact in the early states and use that momentum to build delegates throughout the primary process in 2020.

Average of National Polls for the Month at Mid-Month
Candidates
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Biden
29
29
31
37
34
30
30
28
28
28
Warren
7
7
6
8
10
13
15
17
23
21
Sanders
17
23
23
18
17
16
16
17
16
17
Buttigieg
0
0
3
7
7
6
5
5
6
7
Harris
11
11
9
8
7
11
10
7
5
5
Yang
1
0
1
1
1
1
2
3
3
3
Booker
4
5
4
3
2
2
2
2
2
2
Klobuchar
2
4
2
2
1
1
1
1
1
2
Gabbard
1
1
1
1
0
1
1
1
1
2
Castro
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
Steyer
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
1
1
1
1
Bennet
n/a
n/a
n/a
1
1
0
0
1
1
1
Bullock
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
1
1
1
0
1
Delaney
0
0
1
0
0
0
1
0
0
1
Williamson
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
1
1
0
Sestak
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
0
0
0
0
Messam
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
0
0
0
0
0
0


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 lays his claim to electability.

Sanders and Warren both do very well versus Trump nationally.  But in swing state head-to-head polls, Biden is ahead by a good +4 margin on average, which looms large when you consider that 10 states were decided by four points or less in 2016.  Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg hold only narrow margins over Trump.

Head-to-Head October/November Polls Dems Versus Trump
Nat'l/State Polls
Biden
Warren
Sanders
Buttigieg
National
Biden +10
Warren +7
Sanders +8
Buttigieg +2
Avg. Swing State
Biden +4
Warren +1
Sanders +2
Buttigieg +0.2

The chart below shows the data swing state by swing state, ranked by blue to red (according to the margin of Clinton/Trump in 2016).  Biden does best in this states, beating Trump in many states that went for Trump in 2016, in some cases by wide margins.  Sanders does reasonably well, but Warren and Buttigieg fare relatively poorly, particularly in those red states that must be flipped on the path to 270.

State
2016 Margin
Versus Trump
Biden
Warren
Sanders
Buttigieg
MAINE
+3
+12
+10
+10
+9
MINN
+2
+12
+11
+9
n/a
NEV
+2
+3
+1
+4
0
MICH
-0.2
+7
+2
+9
n/a
FL
-1
+4
-1
-1
-1
PA
-1
+5
+2
+2
n/a
WISC
-1
+5
+1
+3
-2
AZ
-4
+2
-1
-3
n/a
NC
-4
+3
-1
0
-2
GA
-5
+8
+3
+4
+3
IOWA
-9
-2
-5
-1
-4
TX
-9
-7
-7
-5
n/a
OHIO
-11
+6
+4
+6
n/a



THE GOP RACE

Is there a GOP race?  Not really.   Recent polls – yes, someone is doing them -- have Trump at 87%.  Williams Weld is at 2% and Joe Walsh at 1%.


THE FULL FIELD

Here are the entire Democratic and Republican fields as of today.

Democratic Candidates
Age
Announcement  Date
Credentials
Latest national polls     (10/16 - 11/15)
Joe Biden
76
4/25/2019
Ex-VP and Ex-Senator, Delaware
28%
Bernie Sanders
78
2/19/2019
Senator, Vermont
23%
Elizabeth Warren
70
12/31/2018
Senator, Massachusetts
16%
Kamala Harris
55
1/18/2019
Senator, California
6%
Pete Buttigieg
37
1/22/2019
Mayor, South Bend, Indiana
5%
Andrew Yang
44
11/6/2017
Entrepreneur
2%
Cory Booker
50
2/1/2019
Senator, New Jersey
2%
Amy Klobuchar
59
2/10/2019
Senator, Minnesota
1%
Julian Castro
45
1/10/2019
Ex-Secretary, HUD
1%
Tulsi Gabbard
38
1/11/2019
Representative, Hawaii
1%
Steve Bullock
53
5/14/2019
Governor, Montana
1%
Marianne Williamson
67
1/28/2019
Self-help author
1%
Tom Steyer
62
7/9/2019
Billionaire hedge fund manager
1%
Michael Bennet
54
5/2/2019
Senator, Colorado
0%
John Delaney
56
7/28/2017
Representative, Maryland
0%
Wayne Messam
45
3/28/2019
Mayor, Miramar, Florida
0%
Joe Sestak
67
6/23/2019
Ex-Representative, Pennsylvania
0%
Deval Patrick
63
11/13/2019
Ex-Governor, Massachusetts
0%





Republican Candidates
Age
Announcement  Date
Credentials
Latest national polls     (10/16 - 11/15)
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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