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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  We Are Not Amused
      •  McConnell Wants to Keep the Filibuster
      •  Ruth Bader Ginsburg Beats Cancer, Again
      •  Obama-Trump Voters Prefer Trump to Biden
      •  Moulton Is Out
      •  Democratic Presidential Candidate Update: Beto O'Rourke

We Are Not Amused

On the trade-war front, things went from bad to considerably worse on Friday. China got things started, announcing additional tariffs of 5%-10% on $75 billion of American goods, to take effect Sept. 1. The Xi administration will also raise tariffs on automobiles (25%) and automotive parts (5%), effective Dec. 15th.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump blew his top. He declared that the 25% tariffs set to take effect on Oct. 1 will, instead, be 30%. The 10% tariffs that were delayed until Dec. 15 will, instead, be 15%. The President also went nuts on Twitter. Here is the sequence that's getting the most attention:

Please forgive the embedding of four tweets, but the second one is the key one, and it doesn't make sense if taken out of context (it doesn't make all that much sense even in context). Anyhow, Trump has once again forgotten that he is not an absolute monarch or dictator, and he cannot "hereby order" private companies to do things. Naturally, that bit inspired much mockery in various corners of the Internet, including this:

George Conway is pretty quickly emerging as the King of the Trump Trolls.

China was not the only "enemy" on which Trump set his sights on Friday. In fact, they may not even be the "enemy" Trump is angriest with:

Hmmmmm. Is the United States threatened more by the hostile leader of a powerful nation with 1.4 billion people, or by the U.S. citizen appointed to the Fed by Trump himself? Hard to say. In any case, Powell did not take the smear lying down, and observed that "Setting trade policy is the business of Congress and the administration, not that of the Fed." Trump punched back, and announced that he would be delighted to accept Powell's resignation at any time.

While Trump was blowing off steam, the rest of the world was left to deal with the fallout from his and Xi's actions. The markets, of course, took a hit, with the Dow down 2.4% (623 points), the Nasdaq down 3%, and the S&P 500 down 2.6%. Analysts, not surprisingly, blamed Trump for these developments. "Everyone knew this was coming," said Craig Allen, president of the US-China Business Council. "There was no doubt this was coming. The response to it is surprising and disappointing." The National Farmers Union, which represents over 200,000 family-owned farms and ranches, also criticized the President: "[I]nstead of looking to solve existing problems in our agricultural sector, this administration has just created new ones. Between burning bridges with all of our biggest trading partners and undermining our domestic biofuels industry, President Trump is making things worse, not better." Trump, for his part, had a different idea of who was to blame for the market downturn:

Presumably that is a joke, but with Trump, you never know.

Late Friday, Trump departed for the G7 Summit, which should While there, he will meet Boris Johnson as PM for the first time, and will also renew his pitch to allow Russia to rejoin the group. Meanwhile, folks like Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron will likely have a few pointed questions about things like Trump's trade policy, his lack of action on climate change, and his hostility toward the EU. Undoubtedly, a good time will be had by all. At the previous G7 meeting, in June of 2018, Trump stepped on all of the other leaders' toes, and was openly insulting to Japan's Shinzō Abe and Canada's Justin Trudeau. That was also the summit that gave us this famous image:

Angela Merkel stands and looks daggers at Trump, while Shinzo Abe is disdainful, with arms crossed, and Donald Trump is petulant, also with arms crossed

The smart money says to expect more of the same this weekend. (Z)

McConnell Wants to Keep the Filibuster

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said many nasty things about the biases of the mainstream media. That makes his choice of the New York Times as a vessel for his message a little curious. Maybe it makes sense, though, since the op-ed he published on Thursday is aimed at Democrats. His message: "Let's not kill the filibuster."

McConnell's piece is a master class in either spin or delusion, as he lays 100% of the blame for the Senate dysfunction of the last 5-10 years at the feet of the Democrats. As to the filibuster, he writes:

Yes, the Senate's design makes it difficult for one party to enact sweeping legislation on its own. Yes, the filibuster makes policy less likely to seesaw wildly with every election. These are features, not bugs. Our country doesn't need a second House of Representatives with fewer members and longer terms. America needs the Senate to be the Senate.

The Majority Leader also says that he and his colleagues would never "vandalize this core tradition for short-term gain." If true, then it's pretty much the only core tradition that he's not willing to sell out for short-term gain.

There is, of course, no question that the Democrats deserve a fair portion of the blame for the mess that the Senate has become; after all, it is they who first began to erode the filibuster. However, McConnell conveniently overlooks the extent to which he and his GOP colleagues have themselves disrupted the normal operation of the upper chamber, from eating away at the filibuster even more, to effectively stealing a SCOTUS seat through abuse of the approval process, to stretching "reconciliation" beyond all recognition, to sticking countless pieces of House-approved legislation into the Majority Leader's desk drawer to die a silent death.

In short, the entire op-ed is an exercise in disingenuousness. McConnell is not arguing for the legislative filibuster because of his deeply held respect for the traditions and customs of the U.S. Senate. Nor is that the reason he is keeping it intact right now. If there was a clear benefit to him in killing it, it would have been done yesterday. However, the Majority Leader knows that no GOP-friendly legislation is getting through the House anytime soon, and so there will be no Democratic filibusters in the Senate. Consequently, he is not particularly being harmed by the existence of the maneuver. On the other hand, he knows the day will come when his party is back in the minority, and the Democrats will hold both houses of Congress and the White House. Indeed, there's a decent chance that could happen as soon as January 20, 2021. And, at that point, the GOP will begin making liberal use of the filibuster, for as long as it survives.

At such point that the Democrats do have the federal trifecta once again, they will undoubtedly think long and hard about what to do, filibuster-wise. If they do kill it, the problem for them will be that there are still more red states than blue states, and that their hold on the upper chamber could be brief. Consequently, the killing of the filibuster would almost certainly need to be accompanied by some McConnell-style realpolitik, namely the prompt admission of Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico as states. That would likely mean four more Democratic senators, and would make the blue team's hold on the upper chamber far less tenuous. And if California decided to split itself into North California and South California, that would mean another two Democratic senators. Hard to know if Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) & Co. have the stomach for that kind of thing, though. (Z)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Beats Cancer, Again

She kept it on the down-low, for obvious reasons, but with treatment now at its conclusion, Ruth Bader Ginsburg revealed on Friday that she has once again beaten cancer. This is her second successful battle with pancreatic cancer, and her fourth overall win, having also fought off lung and colon cancer.

The Justice remains active, and says she is still able to do her job "full steam," and if so, good on her. However, even if she was barely functional, she would not and could not resign, as her seat would be filled by a Donald Trump appointee, which is anathema to her. That's a shame, since she has undoubtedly earned the right to retire if that is what she wants to so. If noted defender of the traditions of the Senate Mitch McConnell (see above) were to agree to abide by the McConnell rule, and to hold the seat open until after the next election, she might just throw in the towel (or the robe). But he's never going to do that, of course, which means that regardless of how good or bad her health is, she will be forced to do everything possible to hang on until January 20, 2021.

One can only speculate whether she has given her two adult children instructions to keep her technically alive until that date should the need arise. This would certainly turn the right-to-die debate on its ear, as the President, the GOP, the evangelicals, and an entire half of the nation would be put in a position of advocating against the artificial sustenance of RBG's life, in conflict with the other half of the nation, the Democrats, her family, and the well-known wishes of the Justice herself. (Z)

Obama-Trump Voters Prefer Trump to Biden

Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley has a very interesting piece based on several recent polls of voters' attitudes. From this data comes two related conclusions. The first is that lefty Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) aren't noticeably more or less popular with swing-district voters than centrist Democrats like Joe Biden. In fact, Ocasio-Cortez' net favorability (-6) was actually a tad bit higher than Democrats in general (-7) or than Biden (-10). The second is that Biden's favorability among Obama-Trump voters (36%) is not a whole lot higher than that of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT, 26%) or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA, 17%).

The upshot, in terms of 2020, is that for most Trump voters, a Democrat is a Democrat is a Democrat is a Democrat (with apologies to Gertrude Stein). Biden would undoubtedly peel off more Trump voters/Independents than his rivals would, if the election was held today. However, it's probably not vastly more, and that number would have to be weighed against the number of progressives who might stay home on Election Day due to low enthusiasm if he's the candidate (faced with a Trump presidency in 2016, about 4 million of them did so). On top of that, the election is not going to be held today, and it's possible that in the next 14 months, Biden could bleed some support due to gaffes, or if he creates the impression that he's not physically/mentally up to the rigors of the job, or if skeletons emerge from his closet. On that latter point, Team Trump has already dispatched Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine to dig up dirt.

Of course, Trump only won the White House by a whisker in 2016. And if Biden can peel off just a portion of the Obama-Trump voters, and can get just a few more of the non-voting progressives from 2016 to the polls (now that they know what a Trump presidency looks like), then that would probably be enough to win a close election. At the same time, it's possible that Trump is so unpopular that he would lose to any Democrat, Biden or no. Point is, Biden does have an electability argument. However, in view of all of these considerations, that should be regarded as a minor advantage for him, not a major one.

Meanwhile, the upshot, long-term, is that American politics have become very polarized, such that crossover voters are becoming an endangered species. Further, it would appear that the realignment that Donald Trump both took advantage of, and also hastened, is here to stay. White, noncollege, blue-collar men are probably lost to the Democrats for good, while educated suburbanites are now in the fold. Running Biden, with the idea of capturing the old Democratic coalition one last time, could very well work. But by 2024, 2028, etc., it will really be time for the blue team to invest their time and energy in places like Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, and maybe Georgia, and not to worry so much about the rust belt states. (Z)

Moulton Is Out

If you forgot that Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) was running for president, you are to be forgiven, since he never made any of the debate cuts, and he never really made a dent in the national conversation. When you are considerably less well known as a candidate than Marianne Williamson is, that really says something. Anyhow, bowing to a reality that was evident to everyone else months ago, Moulton dropped out of the race on Friday.

There are three particular pressures acting on candidates right now that may cause them to drop out sooner rather than later: (1) avoiding the embarrassment of missing the debate cut, (2) shortage of funds, and (3) a need to turn their focus to other political races. All three candidates who have dropped out in the last nine days were in all three categories. Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) was out of the debates and low on money, and promptly announced his reelection bid for the governor's mansion upon dropping out. John Hickenlooper was also out of the debates and low on money, and jumped into the Colorado Senate race just days after dropping out. And Moulton had no chance of making the debates and no money left, and he has drawn a couple of serious primary challengers, so it was time for him to turn his focus to getting reelected to the House.

Among the remaining Democrats, there aren't many left who check all three of these boxes. The closest is probably Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT), who is term-limited in his current job, but will need to get serious pretty soon about challenging Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), if that is what he is going to do. Beto O'Rourke is in a similar situation to Bullock, in that he needs to change gears if he's going to mount a serious Senate campaign. However, he says he's not, he has more money than Bullock, and he's already qualified for the third and fourth debates, so he will linger as a presidential candidate for at least a little while. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is running low on funds, and definitely has to face voters in 2020, but she's a strong favorite for reelection in deep-blue Hawaii, and she'll likely make the fourth debate, so she'll hold on for another month or two. Nobody else in the Democratic field has an imminent campaign, or a possible imminent campaign, that may require their attention, so the next dropouts (besides possibly Bullock) will be prompted by missing the debates and/or lack of money. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate Update: Beto O'Rourke

For reasons described above, Beto O'Rourke could end his presidential campaign by Halloween, or he could hang on until Memorial Day, and we would not be surprised in either case.

Here is our original profile of O'Rourke.

Beto O'Rourke
  • Where Have They Been Recently?: He's spent a fair bit of time in Iowa, but he also visited Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri in the last week. That is a very strange list for someone who aspires to run for a Democrat.

  • Recent News: O'Rourke returned home to El Paso in order to "reboot" his presidential campaign. Other than declaring that he needs more "urgency" and that he's definitely not running for the Senate, however, it was not entirely clear how O'Rourke 2020 v2.0 will differ from v1.0.

  • Offbeat News: If you would like to know what it was like to date O'Rourke when he attended Columbia University, the Washington Post has you covered.

  • Finances: As of the end of June, he had over $5 million on hand. So, he is not in danger of running out of cash anytime soon.

  • Polls: O'Rourke used to be in the high single digits, or sometimes even the double digits, including a 12% in this Quinnipiac poll from March. Since then, however, he's plummeted quite a bit, and normally attracts 2%-4% support. His average, across the last 90 days' polls, is 3.0%.

  • What Did We Guess His Signature Issue Would Be?: Veterans' Issues, ending the War on Drugs

  • What Appears to Be His Signature Issue Now?: Gun control, specifically a mandatory buyback of assault weapons. This change in course was prompted, and somewhat necessitated, by the fact that the candidate's hometown was victimized by a mass shooting.

  • Strengths for the Democratic Primaries: (1) He's very charismatic; (2) he does well with "outside the box" things, like showing up at supporters' birthday parties or appearing on late night talk shows; and (3) he should do surprisingly well on Super Tuesday, if he can last that long.

  • Weaknesses for the Democratic Primaries: (1) He's too progressive for the moderate wing of the party; (2) he's too moderate for the progressive wing of the party; and (3) he's not great in debates, which are the primary showcase available to candidates in primary season.

  • O'Rourke on Trump: "He's not the source of racism in this country. This country has been racist as long as it's been a country, but he is certainly fanning the flames, he is certainly making violence like this more possible and more real." (8/6/19)

  • Trump on O'Rourke: "Beto (phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage) O'Rourke, who is embarrassed by my last visit to the Great State of Texas, where I trounced him, and is now even more embarrassed by polling at 1% in the Democrat Primary, should respect the victims and law enforcement - and be quiet!" (8/6/19)

  • The Bottom Line: This is almost certainly not his year. He's young enough and has got political skills enough that, if he spent a few years in the Senate getting some experience and building up his national profile, his year could definitely come. Time will tell if he reaches the same conclusion.

You can access the list of candidate profiles by clicking on the 2020 Dem candidates link in the menu to the left of the map. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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