Tentative Primary and Caucus Schedule
  March 1 (Super Tues)
  March 2-14
L blue   March 15-31
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News from the Votemaster

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Democrats Largely Favor Substance Over Drama
      •  Sanders vs. the DNC: The Sequel
      •  Big Brother is Watching
      •  How Cruz Will Try to Destroy Rubio
      •  A New Era at Fox News?
      •  Kasich Launches Trump-Putin 2016 Website

Democrats Largely Favor Substance Over Drama

Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Martin O'Malley came, they saw, and one or two of them (depending on your definition) conquered. The main storylines from the two-plus hour event:

No civil war after all: It's not exactly the Missouri Compromise, but an internecine conflict among Democratic campaigns was avoided on Saturday morning when an agreement was reached to restore Sanders' access to his data (see below for more). ABC's moderators, looking to cut the issue off at the pass, made the breach the subject of their very first question. Sanders apologized, Clinton accepted with grace and said, "I don't think the American people are all that interested in this." She missed her cue. She should have said: "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn database." Then she should have shaken his hand, just like at the first debate. It would have gotten a great reaction and cast her as someone who thinks fast on her feet (even though she knew this was coming.)

A focus on issues: Whatever the reason may be—the personalities of the candidates, the number of people on stage, the current state of the two parties—there is no avoiding the conclusion that the Democratic debates feature more substantive discussions of policy than do the Republican debates. In addition to finding plenty of time to address the Middle East as well as the place of immigrants and Muslims in American society (essentially the only subjects at the last GOP debate), the Democrats also talked about Wall Street, the minimum wage, racism, police misconduct, and gun control, among other issues. They even spent almost 10 minutes discussing heroin abuse—a subject that it would be hard to imagine coming up during the Republican debates.

Civility: Again, whatever the reason may be, the Democratic debate was considerably more civil than the Republican debate. While the candidates certainly disagreed on occasion, they generally limited their criticisms to policies and political positions, and not to the actual person (Martin O'Malley was the occasional exception, see below). Further, they were much more willing to acknowledge when one of their rivals had a point. To use one crude measure, the Democratic candidates used the word 'agree' (or some variant thereof) 16 times. The GOP's candidates did so twice.

Taking aim at Trump and the Republicans: In the other two debates, the Democratic candidates tended to say fairly little about the party on the other side of the aisle. That changed on Saturday night, as all three—but particularly Clinton—lobbed grenades at the red team. Donald Trump was a particular target, meriting more than a dozen mentions. But the party as a whole was also the subject of some very pointed rhetoric—in one of the best-received lines of the night, for example, Clinton declared, "If, heaven forbid, that next president is a Republican, I think it's pretty clear we know what will happen. A lot of the rights that have been won over years, from women's rights to voter rights to gay rights to worker rights, will be at risk."

The empty podium: In the strangest moment of the evening, and one that is sure to engender some commentary, ABC returned from its first commercial break while Hillary Clinton was (presumably) still using the restroom. For the first half of the first post-commercial question, Sanders and O'Malley stood on either side of an empty podium. Eventually, Clinton hustled back on stage, offered a quick apology, and got a nice round of applause. However, it was not a good moment for ABC, which may find itself receiving a few explanations as to why women's pit stops take a bit longer than do men's. Perhaps they will even be accompanied by diagrams.

Moving on to the individual candidates' performances:

Hillary Clinton: Clinton had an excellent night. At times—when she accepted Sanders' apology, or when she patted him on back during a commercial break—she was gracious. At many other times, particularly when discussing foreign policy, she was masterful. And, when apropos, she was personable. When asked, "Should corporate America love Hillary Clinton?" she got a big laugh responding, "Everybody should." Perhaps most important, however, Clinton did not hurt herself. She has a commanding lead in the polls and, to a large extent, only she has the capacity to change that. There were simply no mistakes of the sort that might give Sanders an opening. In fact, there were really no mistakes at all. Whomever the Republican candidate is, they should be realize that they'll be moving up to the major leagues if they have to square off with her.

Bernie Sanders: Sanders also had an excellent night. He too was gracious; beyond his very genuine apology at the start of the debate, he also had some very kind words about Clinton's service as first lady. He too was masterful—domestic and economic issues are his bread and butter, of course, but he also had his strongest debate (by far) from a foreign policy standpoint. And he too was personable. He received a variant of the question above—"Will corporate America love a President Sanders?"—and got just as big a laugh as Clinton when he shook his head woefully and said, "Nope, I think they won't." He also had a nice moment when the debate turned to tax policy and he exclaimed, "Now this is getting to be fun!"

That said, Sanders did not have quite as good a night as Clinton. There were no major mistakes, but there were a number of small ones. He relied a bit too much on pre-scripted talking points—"I have no Super PAC," "I voted against the Iraq War," "It's a rigged economy," etc. Trying to draw a distinction between himself and Clinton, he argued that she is too much a fan of "regime change." It's a fair point, but it got him into a bit of trouble when Clinton pointed out that he too had supported regime change in the case of Libya. And while the Senator did better on gun control than in previous debates, he still stumbled a little. But his biggest problem, of course, was that Clinton had a good night. It is all but impossible for him to "conquer" when that is the case.

Martin O'Malley: O'Malley started very well, concluding his opening statement with one of the best lines of the night:

We are a better country than this. Our enduring symbol is not the barbed wire fence, it is the Statue of Liberty. And America's best days are in front of us if we move forward together.

From there, however, it was largely downhill. In a remark that was clearly pre-scripted, he lamented "the bickering back and forth"—literally moments after Sanders' and Clinton's kumbaya moment. Another pre-scripted line—"I am the very first post-9/11 mayor and the very first post-9/11 governor"—left people scratching their heads. What does that even mean? Most significant, however, is that O'Malley spent much of the evening looking like a jerk. At one point, he refused to abide by the debate rules, and insisted on speaking out of turn, effectively shouting down Martha Raddatz. This never looks good, but it is particularly bad when the candidate is a man and the moderator being walked on is a woman. The former governor also found time for a little ageism—after Sanders talked about ISIS, O'Malley immediately interjected with, "May I offer a different generation's perspective on this?" That got a loud chorus of boos. He was also the only person on stage willing to launch personal attacks against his fellow debaters. The most pointed of these came when O'Malley accused Sanders and Clinton of "flip-flopping" on gun control. The audience let out a gasp, as the attack seemed extremely gratuitous (and, in the case of Clinton, not really true).

The Democrats meet again on January 17, in South Carolina—the last Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses. (Z)

Sanders vs. the DNC: The Sequel

The story of Bernie Sanders vs. the Democratic National Committee continues. Briefly summarizing the plot until now, due to a software bug, somewhere between one and four Sanders' staffers got access to data belonging to the Clinton campaign that they had no business seeing. They also downloaded some of it. When the DNC discovered this, it banned Sanders' campaign from using its own data until it could be shown that it had deleted the Clinton data. Friday, Sanders sued the DNC to get access back to his own data. Yesterday, the DNC relented and restored his access.

But Sanders may have the last laugh. Many Sanders' supporters saw the lockout as a naked attempt by the DNC chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), to help Hillary Clinton and hurt Sanders. So to help Sanders, they pulled out their credit cards and donated over $1 million to Sanders on Friday alone. All in all, it is a win for Sanders, as the extra million will come in handy against the Clinton juggernaut. So far she has outraised him $78 million to $42 million, but he has more individual donors. (V)

Big Brother is Watching

Apropos in a week where the Democrats' squabbling over data has taken center stage, the National Journal's Brendan Sasso has a provocative piece on political campaigns' collection of personal information from websites like Facebook and Twitter. This is called data scraping, and when most people or organizations in the United States do it, the activity is regulated. However, political campaigns fall through the cracks of existing policies. As Sasso explains:

[They] operate in a legal dead zone outside the reach of federal regulators. The Federal Trade Commission regulates commercial privacy issues, but has no jurisdiction over political campaigns. The Federal Election Commission regulates campaigns, but has no privacy regulations.

This particular activity is not peculiar to one party or the other; both scrape mountains and mountains of data. Barack Obama was a pioneer in this area with his Project Narwhal; in the current election cycle, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is apparently the most enthusiastic practitioner, using the information collected to build detailed psychological profiles of voters.

Assuming that the government or the voting public decide this is an issue, it will not be easy to fix. Even the most zealous privacy advocates acknowledge that political campaigning is a form of free speech, and that it will be very difficult to craft policies or laws that do not run afoul of the First Amendment. We may have to wait until a bright cold day in April, when the clocks are striking thirteen. (Z)

How Cruz Will Try to Destroy Rubio

Ted Cruz understands that there are two people between him and the Republican nomination: Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). There is nothing he can do about Trump, but if he can take down Rubio, it could easily become a two-way race between him and Trump and a desperate Republican establishment might hold its collective nose and support him as the lesser of two evils. According to a piece in The Week, the way Cruz will try to sink Rubio is by hitting him on immigration. To a large part of the Republican base, immigration is the reason that the country is changing—becoming less white—and why they feel increasingly like strangers in their own country.

Cruz's position on immigration has changed over the years, but he is clearly moving to the right now. When Rubio is asked about his support for the "Gang of 8" bill, he gives a long detailed answer. Cruz sums this up as "He's for amnesty." This could well be a winning issue for Cruz. (V)

A New Era at Fox News?

The Washington Post's Callum Borchers has written a rather glowing piece about Fox News' coverage of the 2016 election. He argues that the network has been very tough on the Republican frontrunners, and points out specific examples in support of this point. It was Fox that goaded Donald Trump into saying sexist things about Megyn Kelly, that caused Ben Carson to embarrass himself with his poor command of foreign affairs, and that boxed Ted Cruz into a corner with his shifting positions on immigration policy.

Borchers seems to be suggesting that, just maybe, Fox has turned over a new leaf and has gotten more serious about, well, being fair and balanced. Not so fast, though. The criticism of Fox News has always been that its staff was toting the water of the Republican Party, not that of the far right fringe. After all, the man who built the channel—and who still serves as its Chairman and CEO—is Roger Ailes. He is as establishment as it gets, having worked for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Rudy Giuliani. By undermining candidates that the GOP establishment finds odious, Fox News is not necessarily showing its journalistic independence. If anything, it's evidence that the relationship between the channel and the party is as tight as ever. When Fox cuts Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush off at the knees, then maybe we can talk about fair and balanced. (Z)

Kasich Launches Trump-Putin 2016 Website

Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) is the only Republican candidate who has really lit into Donald Trump so far. He did it again yesterday by launching trump-putin2016.com with Vladimir Putin as Trump's running mate. The front page of the site features the slogan "Make Tyranny Great Again!" accompanied by a video and a picture of a shirtless Putin (and a horse). The video is a pseudo news story about Trump picking Putin as his running mate, with each of them saying nice things about the other. The Website is basically a satire on Putin's remarks earlier this week that he likes Trump and Trump's kind words in return.

Kasich's clever satire aside, the Republican establishment is appalled by Trump's cozying up to Putin. In 2012, Mitt Romney said that Russia was America's biggest foe. For decades, anti-Russian sentiment has been a core tenet of the Republican Party. Stuart Stevens, a former top advisor to Romney, said: "Donald Trump is like that stray dog anybody can pet and it will follow you home. Putin praises him so he loves Putin." Trump's love of Putin actually predates this week. In September, both appeared on "60 Minutes." About that event, Trump said: "I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates." To the extent Trump redefines the Republican Party as a Latino-hating, Russia-loving collection of bigots, it could hurt the eventual nominee, even if it is not Trump, since the nominee will invariably be asked if he agrees with Trump and both "yes" and "no" will alienate large blocs of voters. (V)

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---The Votemaster
Dec19 Democrats to Debate Amongst Budding Civil War
Dec19 Conservatives Going after Rubio on Immigration
Dec19 Rubio Misses Key Senate Vote
Dec19 There Are No More Swing Voters
Dec19 McConnell Tells Republican Voters to Shun Tea Party Candidates
Dec19 Adelson Has Money and Passion but Not Much Competence
Dec19 Voters Want to Bomb Disney Land
Dec18 New Hampshire Independents Could Throw a Monkey Wrench in the Works
Dec18 Sanders' Thursday Started Well but Hit a Snag Later
Dec18 Vladimir Putin Endorses Donald Trump
Dec18 An Independent run by Trump Would Doom Republicans in Iowa
Dec18 Cruz Unequivocally Opposes Legalization of Undocumented Immigrants
Dec18 Huckabee All-In on Iowa
Dec18 The Force Probably Isn't With the 2016 Candidates
Dec17 GOP Debate Number Five Postmortem
Dec17 When Republicans Attack
Dec17 Are the GOP Candidates Too Hawkish?
Dec17 Trump Rallies With America's Sheriff
Dec17 Fed Increases the Interest Rate
Dec17 Adelson Has a New Toy
Dec17 Sanders Lands a Big Endorsement
Dec16 Fireworks at the GOP Debate
Dec16 Trump Meets With Sheldon Adelson
Dec16 Government Will Not Shut Down
Dec16 Clinton Announces Plan to Combat ISIS
Dec16 Democrats Asked to Bring Muslims to State of the Union Address
Dec16 Republican, Democratic Voters Agree Substantially on Climate Change
Dec16 Fiorina Makes a Strange Video
Dec15 Republicans Debate in Las Vegas Tonight
Dec15 Trump Passes the 40% Mark Nationally
Dec15 Clinton Increases Her Lead over Sanders in Iowa
Dec15 Did Rubio Violate Senate Ethics Rules with His Book?
Dec15 Could Trump Run as an Independent?
Dec15 Billionaires Are Having Trouble Buying the Election
Dec15 When Politicians' Lips Are Moving, Part II
Dec15 Donald Trump Has Found The Donald Trump of Doctors
Dec15 Republicans Debate in Las Vegas Tonight
Dec15 Trump Passes the 40% Mark Nationally
Dec15 Clinton Increases Her Lead over Sanders in Iowa
Dec15 Did Rubio Violate Senate Ethics Rules with His Book?
Dec15 Could Trump Run as an Independent?
Dec15 Billionaires Are Having Trouble Buying the Election
Dec15 When Politicians' Lips Are Moving, Part II
Dec15 Donald Trump Has Found the Donald Trump of Doctors
Dec14 Yet Another Poll Released Showing Cruz Leading Iowa
Dec14 Cruz Closing the Gap Nationally
Dec14 Lineup Set for Next GOP Debate
Dec14 GOP Silence on Climate Change Deal is Deafening
Dec14 Rubio Doesn't Have a Debt Problem, He Has a Spending Problem
Dec14 When Politicians' Lips Are Moving