It’s Impeachment Day
Who Helped Write Trump’s Letter to Pelosi?
Schumer Says Trump Is ‘Under a Great Deal of Duress’
The Purpose of a Political Party
Buttigieg Omitted Top Bundlers from Disclosure
Democrats Have the Votes to Impeach Trump
• Van Drew Loses Staff, Gains Two Admirers
• About that 4%...
• Thursday Debate in Serious Jeopardy
• Beware of Stereotype-Driven "Analysis"
• Some States Spend on Census, Some Don't
• Not So Fast on NAFTA 2.0
As we have written many times, and will undoubtedly write many times more, impeachment is a political process. And politics is very much about theater. So, to say the Senate is staging an impeachment is accurate on multiple levels. And yesterday, it was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) turn in the spotlight.
Schumer began his morning by sitting for an interview with CNN's John Berman on "New Day." And the Minority Leader took the opportunity to slam his GOP counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Schumer's specific complaint was the obvious one, namely the overt public coordination between Donald Trump (aka, the defendant) and McConnell/Senate Republicans (aka, his jury). "For him to talk to the President is one thing. For him to say, 'I'm going to do just what the President wants,' is totally out of line," said Schumer.
It certainly seems clear to us that McConnell & Co. shouldn't be conspiring with Trump & Co. to secure a pre-arranged result. And yet, to much of the country, it isn't clear (or problematic) at all. The Guardian's Geoffrey Kabaservice has an op-ed on that point, in which he observes:
In the short term...the Republican strategy of stonewalling and counter-accusations may pay off. The votes on impeachment in the House and removal in the Senate will almost certainly break along uniform party lines, making it easier for Republicans to portray the process as driven entirely by partisanship. Republican voters outraged by impeachment may be more motivated to vote in 2020, while some independents may be so turned off by the whole spectacle that they either vote for Trump or don't vote at all.
In the longer term, however, the Republican approach to impeachment will probably prove counterproductive. The party's critical weakness, as revealed by the 2018 midterm elections, is that it has lost the support of the college-educated and mostly suburban voters (especially women) who once used to reliably vote Republican. By attempting to sabotage the impeachment process and refusing to address the substance of Trump's actions, the Republican party will further damage its image with these voters and make it even harder to regain a governing majority.
To put that another way (and to return to the theater metaphor), the Republicans are staging a farce, an over-the-top performance aimed solely at the base. The problem is that their approach is so over the top, they run the risk of (permanently) turning moderates away from the Party.
Meanwhile, Chuck Schumer is not content to merely critique the Republican approach to impeachment. He's also executing his own maneuvers. This weekend, he sent a letter to Mitch McConnell outlining the Democrats' plans for the impeachment trial. The big news in that letter is that Schumer wants a fairly lengthy process, one that would surely take the better part of a month, and that he and his team want to call a number of witnesses, including former NSA John Bolton and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Only Schumer and the folks with whom he is strategizing know exactly what he's thinking with that witness list, especially since Bolton's name (unlike Mulvaney's) doesn't even appear in the articles of impeachment. It is possible, even likely, that Chief Umpire John Roberts will get to make the call on this and his interest is in defending the integrity of the process, not saving Donald Trump's skin. The rules allow the Senate to override Roberts, but how will that look to the audience? The Chief says "let the witness speak" and the Republicans say: "Nope." There is little chance that Senate Republicans will voluntarily agree to subpoena those men unless the White House signs off on it, but will they want to overrule Roberts? It's also possible that the Democrats think that Trump will rashly agree to have them called. After all, he released the transcript of the Zelensky phone call, and that was a pretty rash decision. Most likely, however, is that Schumer is cutting off at the knees any possibility of calling Hunter Biden, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), or the whistleblower. After all, if Senate Republicans declare it's not necessary to hear from the man who was acting as NSA while the Ukraine extortion was happening, and who has made clear he has dirt to share, then how can they plausibly turn around and argue that it's essential to hear from, say, Schiff?
Anyhow, your move, Mitch. (Z)
Rep. Jeff Van Drew (?-NJ), the longtime Democrat who is switching to the Republican Party, allegedly because of his anger over impeachment, continued to make news on Tuesday. To start, most of his staff resigned, en masse, shortly after he announced his decision. "Sadly, Congressman Van Drew's decision to join the ranks of the Republican Party led by Donald Trump does not align with the values we brought to this job when we joined his office," five of them wrote in their joint letter of resignation.
On the other hand, Van Drew now has two big fans in Donald Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Not coincidentally, those are the same people who persuaded Van Drew to leave Team Blue. They also tried to lure Rep. Collin Peterson (DFL-MN), the other anti-impeachment House Democrat, but he wasn't interested. Anyhow, the President and the Minority Leader have turned Van Drew into quite the hero, using him to illustrate that even many Democrats think impeachment is a sham. "One" is not exactly "many," but Trump and McCarthy aren't going to let that rain on their parade.
Van Drew's problem is that once he ceases to have PR value for Trump and McCarthy, which will be in about a week (if that long), he will quickly become "Van Who?" Meanwhile, the local GOP leadership in New Jersey, who will have a much greater role in the Representative's political future, aren't exactly sold on him. They know what it looks like when someone changes parties for the sake of political expediency, and they believe that someone who was closely affiliated with the Democratic Party for three decades doesn't turn on a dime like that. So, the GOP pooh bahs in New Jersey aren't going to be giving him logistical or financial support in the primaries and, although they won't say it openly, are going to be pushing for his opponents, who are actual Republicans. The odds that Van Drew's congressional career survives all of this have grown vanishingly dim, although it's possible that he's been promised an ambassadorship or something like that. Of course, that coupon can be redeemed only if Trump is reelected and he remembers the offer. (Z)
Yesterday, we had an item about the recent Fox News poll on impeachment. And we repeated one bit of data from that poll that is strange enough that many readers e-mailed in and warned us that we must have made an error: 4% of respondents want Donald Trump impeached but not removed office. Huh? That's like saying "I think he should be prosecuted for murder, but not convicted." Who are the folks who feel this way?
In answer to that, we give you one Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and GOP presidential candidate. With the clock on her 15 minutes of fame at 14:59 and counting, CNN decided to interview her for her thoughts on impeachment. And during that interview, she spun quite the logical pretzel, declaring that "I think it is vital that he be impeached," but also opining that it's really too close to an election to actually convict him. If that was not enough, she also said she might still vote for the President in 2020.
Fiorina was not particularly able to resolve this incongruity, and it's not likely that most of the folks in the 4% of Americans who feel as she does would be able to, either. However, we are happy to take a shot at it. We suspect that the 4% is actually made up of two groups of people:
- The Future Apostates: For a great many Americans, the political party they belong to is an
important element of their personal identity, often inherited from their parents and grandparents. It's not so easy to
go against that, and even when it happens, it doesn't happen overnight. It is likely that some of those 4%, then, are
folks who are anti-Trump, but still haven't quite given themselves permission to vote Democratic yet. To the extent that
Fiorina was able to explain herself, this appears to be the group she's in.
- The "But the Tweets" Crowd: There are many people who basically like what Trump is doing, policy-wise, but they don't always like how he goes about it. In particular, they lament his personal behavior, a concern that is often expressed something like this: "I like him, but I wish he would lay off the tweets." These folks likely see impeachment as a Trump spanking, of sorts, and hope he will learn a useful lesson from it about the need to rein in his worst excesses.
There's no particular way to test if we are right about this, since even the folks who feel this way—e.g, Fiorina—can't really explain themselves. But if we are correct, it implies that the 50% who are all-in on impeachment are already lost to the President. And if the 4% are split between "future Apostates" and "but the Tweets," then maybe half of them are lost to him, too (or will be). That's 51%-52% of the electorate. As a reminder, Hillary Clinton barely lost the election of 2016 with 48.2% of the electorate. (Z)
On more than one occasion, we've had cause to recall Will Rogers' famous observation: "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." It comes to mind yet again this week, as the DNC pulled its December debate from UCLA, because the university has much labor unrest, and moved it down the road to Loyola Marymount...a university with much labor unrest. The union representing LMU's service workers (janitors, cafeteria staff, etc.) knows leverage when they see it, and so has organized massive picket lines, which they currently plan to continue through the end of the week. Complicating things is that the union's dispute is not technically with LMU, it's with the private firm Sodexo, which employs the workers and then contracts with the university. Anyhow, regardless of the exact nature of the dispute, the optics of crossing a picket line, especially for a Democratic politician, are not good. All seven candidates who have qualified for the debate stage have announced they will not do so. There are less than 48 hours left until the debate. So, you see the problem.
The good news for the DNC is that negotiations between the union and Sodexo are ongoing. Perhaps also helpful is that DNC Chair Tom Perez used to be Secretary of Labor, and so knows a little something about resolving disputes like this. And, on top of that, the union is not likely to have more leverage than they have right now, so has motivation to get a deal done. The bad news is that Sodexo has no particular motivation to reach an agreement right now, as they are currently in the weaker position, and it does not matter to them whether or not the Democratic debate happens on schedule. Anyhow, the point is that folks who were struggling to choose between watching the sixth debate of the year and going to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on opening night—a group that must number in the tens of people—may not have to worry. (Z)
Politico has an item right now headlined "Why Trump is winning on trade in Iowa." We would argue that headline assumes two facts that are not actually in evidence. First, that he's winning in Iowa. There has actually been very little polling of "Trump vs. Biden" or "Trump vs. Sanders," because most pollsters spend their time asking about the Democratic primaries. To the extent that polling has been done, the results have been mixed, with some polls giving the nod to the Democratic frontrunners (especially Joe Biden) and some giving the nod to Trump.
The second assumption is that the President's trade policies are part of the secret of his success. The article makes a familiar argument: Trump's trade policies might not be helping the people of Iowa, but at least he's talking about the subject. Meanwhile, the various Democrats who visit the state consistently fail to engage with the issue that Hawkeye State voters care most about. "It's certainly a missed opportunity," says one prominent Iowa Democrat, while another adds: "We'd expect them to speak up more."
Undoubtedly, it is true that the Democrats aren't talking much with Iowans about trade policy. And yet, they all have plans for improving American trade policy/rebuilding rural America as part of their platforms. Here, for example, are Joe Biden's, Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-MA), Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT), Mayor Pete Buttigieg's (D-South Bend), Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (DFL-MN), and Tom Steyer's. The only debate qualifier who does not have a specific trade policy is Andrew Yang, because he believes Universal Basic Income is a panacea that solves most economic ills.
So, what is going on here? If Iowans desperately want to hear about these issues, and the candidates all have positions on these issues, how come every fish fry and corn boil and county fair appearance doesn't feature half an hour of trade policy? The Politico article has two answers to that question. The first is that the Democratic candidates, all of them urban elites (to varying degrees), just don't get it. The second, related to the first, is that because trade policy is outside their wheelhouse, the Democratic candidates don't like to talk about the subject for fear of screwing up.
This is an easy analysis, one that dovetails nicely with the general stereotype that Democrats are snobs from the two coasts who don't "get" the heartland. It's also facile, and almost certainly doesn't get at the truth of the matter. Every Democratic candidate is desperate for every Iowa vote they can get. And every person on the list above has at least 30 staffers on the ground in Iowa (most have more). If Sanders or Warren or Steyer was simply unaware that Iowans care about trade policy (implausible), there are literally dozens of people in their employ who could clue them in. If there really is concern about a gaffe, there is no doubt that any or all of these folks, aided by briefing books, would be able to achieve Ph.D.-level proficiency in the subject in under a week. And it is outright laughable that rust belters like Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Biden are "uncomfortable" talking about trade policy.
So, what's going on here? Why aren't the Democratic candidates taking advantage of this allegedly low-hanging fruit? We have a few ideas:
- It's Off-Point: We, and many others, just wrote items in response to the British election
that made the point that unfocused campaigns are sloppy campaigns, and are unlikely to be successful. It's entirely
possible, and even justifiable, that the Democratic candidates have chosen their two or three themes, and decided those
will be their focus wherever they go.
- They Can't Tell Rural Voters What They Want to Hear: The story of America's factories is pretty
well known at this point. Manufacturing plants that once employed thousands of blue-collar Americans, and at solid
middle-class wages, are largely a thing of the past. Either they have moved abroad, or the thousands of blue-collar
workers have been replaced by thousands of robots, 40 programmers, and 40 engineers.
Less well known is that the same is basically true of America's farms. That is to say, the model of the past—the independent, family-owned farm—is not especially viable anymore. Improvements in farming technology, both the tools and the seeds/fertilizer, mean that one person can now produce what once took dozens. Anyone who fights against that tide is at a competitive disadvantage; a farm that uses the labor of four people to produce 10 tons of soybeans cannot match a farm that uses the labor of one person to produce 50 tons of soybeans. What has kept the small farms viable, to a large extent, is federal subsidies.
Donald Trump's trade policy, such as it is, is to tell these folks that he can turn the clock back, and that things can be as they once were (and then to hand out more subsidies). He's saying the same thing to coal miners, to factory workers, and to many other groups of people. But, of course, it is not true. Democrats are willing to be overly optimistic, and to promise things that might not actually be politically viable, like Medicare for All. But, generally speaking, they are not willing to promise things they know to be patently false, like "coal mining can make a comeback" or "we can re-create Thomas Jefferson's vision of a nation of small farmers."
City dwellers who have never seen milk outside of a rectangular cardboard box may think that young milkmaids in native dress milk cows. Such is not the case any more, as this video shows. For about $200,000 a dairy farmer can buy a machine that is about the size of a cow. When a cow feels the need to be milked, it ambles over to the machine, putting its head in a trough that dispenses cow treats to keep it occupied. Then a robot scrubs its udders and attaches a pump to them. As it is milked, the milk quality is analyzed in real time and sent to one of several tanks, depending on the butterfat content (high butterfat content gets a better price). When the farmer gets up leisurely at 8 a.m., he goes over to his computer to see how much milk each cow produced that morning and its chemical analysis. Then he decides which cows are about to transition from dairy cows to hamburger cows. A single machine can handle about 50-60 cows. Three guesses on what this automation is doing to the job prospects for milkmaids.
- It's Not the Economy, Stupid: When it comes to Trump's trade policy, and its effects,
there aren't too many mysteries. He has certainly failed to significantly reverse the declining fortunes of heartland
farmers. In fact, he's almost certainly made things worse with his trade wars.
This being the case, it's a little hard to accept at face value anyone who says, "I'm voting for Trump because at least he's talking about this issue." After all, George W. Bush talked plenty about the Middle East in 2004 and LBJ had plenty to say about Vietnam in 1964, but those weren't good arguments for reelecting those men. One has to wonder if latching onto trade policy is a way for some folks to avoid admitting to themselves or to others what their real motivation is, namely the President's xenophobia/racism. This would not be easy to prove directly, but it is certainly the case that: (1) if pocketbook issues were truly preeminent, that should have translated into more votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016, since the Obama economy was very good; (2) for some people, at least, overt expressions of xenophobia/racism remain socially unacceptable; and (3) someone in Iowa has been casting all those votes for Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Congress' resident white supremacist.
Maybe we're right about some of these, or all of them. Maybe we batted 0-for-3. Whatever the case is, the point is this: There are going to be a lot of articles written in the next year that follow this basic formula: "The Democrats could easily win over X voters/state if only they would open their eyes and engage with Y issue." We suggest you regard most such arguments with skepticism, as—on closer examination—they don't really pass the smell test. (Z)
One would think that something as simple as counting the population of the United States would be politically neutral. And yet, anyone who has followed the issue in the last year—specifically, the unsuccessful effort by the Trump administration to add an "Are you a citizen?" question—knows that even the census has now become a political football. And so, this story from The New York Times, about state spending on the census, is hardly a surprise.
What the Times is reporting is that 26 states, led by California with an outlay of $187 million, are going to spend money to increase census response rates from their residents. It would seem that the leaders of these states are not persuaded that the federal government is going to do its very best to find every poor person, immigrant, and person of color (groups that are particularly hard to count). Of those 26 states, only 4 (15%) have Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures. Meanwhile, of the 24 states that will not be spending money to supplement the federal government's efforts—a list that includes Texas, Florida, Ohio—17 (71%) have Republican trifectas.
There are undoubtedly a handful of different dynamics in play here, including that red states tend to be poorer than blue ones, and so don't necessarily have extra cash lying around. However, that most certainly does not include Texas (oil money) or Florida (orange money). It is clear that in these states, and undoubtedly many others, GOP leadership would prefer that undercounted people remain undercounted. After all, the most frequently undercounted groups tend to skew heavily Democratic. All other things being equal, finding a few hundred thousand more Mexicans or Asians or poverty-stricken folks might equate to another Democratic seat in Congress, and several more Democratic seats in the state legislature. No wonder that Democratic leadership is eager to find these folks and Republican leadership is not.
Of course, 10 years is a very long time, and things can change quite a bit. California was run by Democrats in 2010; what if they had looked the other way while Orange County was undercounted back then? They didn't, but if they had, they would be regretting it right about now. (Z)
Perhaps you thought the USMCA (aka, NAFTA 2.0) was a done deal. After all, signing ceremonies have been held, and victory laps have been taken by both Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). However, it turns out that there is language in the bill that the Mexican government says it never saw. That language would allow the Trump administration to appoint up to five diplomatic attachés to conduct inspections in Mexico, to make sure that labor standards are being properly upheld.
Jesús Seade, Mexican undersecretary to North America, is headed to Washington to discuss the matter with both the White House and Congressional Democrats. It appears that what happened was, in effect, a bait-and-switch. That is to say, the Trump administration provided the text of the agreement to the Mexican Senate, but "forgot" to mention the added verbiage. The Mexicans ratified it, and then discovered the additions. Needless to say, they don't particularly wish to be "monitored" by their neighbors to the north.
Exactly what will happen next is anyone's guess. It could be argued that since the Mexican Senate approved the treaty, it's now binding, and that's it. Too bad for them that they didn't read the fine print. Caveat emptor, as it were. And the quick approval speaks to how badly the Mexicans want to maintain their basically open-borders trade relationship with the United States. So, they may decide they have no choice but to swallow hard and accept the extra provisions. On the other hand, they could try to back out, or they could "accept" the deal, but abide by it with something less than enthusiastic adherence. In any event, it turns out this story may not be over, quite yet. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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