Needed 1990
Biden 0
Booker 0
Buttigieg 0
Castro 0
Klobuchar 0
Sanders 0
Warren 0
Yang 0
Political Wire logo McConnell Plots Impeachment Trial Strategy
The Impeachment Time Bomb
Trump Adviser Admits Voter Suppression In Wisconsin
Ex-GOP Senators Says Republicans Are On Trial Too
Secret Stephen Miller Plan Uses Migrant Children Data
White House Threatened to Veto Spending Bill

Democrats Debate in Los Angeles

The sixth Democratic debate is in the books. It was, on the whole, the most engaging debate so far. Call us crazy, but there may just be some benefit to keeping the list of invites as short as possible.

Who helped themselves the most? We're going to go with three people here, because their performances were helpful in different ways. To start, when debate coach Todd Graham writes his usual analysis for CNN, rating candidates purely on their stage presence and expressiveness, he will give his highest marks to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN). She was alternatively assertive, charming, and thoughtful. She also showed the most genuine emotion of the night when she teared up and talked about how important it is to bring marginalized groups into the Democratic Party.

Klobuchar, then, would be the "winner" in a vacuum. But the debates do not take place in a vacuum. Joe Biden wasn't quite as good as Klobuchar, but he wasn't far behind, and as frontrunner, that is a big win for him. Put another way, he doesn't need home runs, he needs solid singles, and last night he got one. Actually, it was better than a solid single, it was more like a double or a triple. Certainly, it was his best debate so far.

What went right for Uncle Joe? Well, first of all, it was his first debate without a significant verbal gaffe. It was also the first debate where he noticeably and regularly went beyond his allotted time. Biden also had a few moments, in particular, where he shone. For example, he went head-to-head with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on healthcare and held his own, despite the fact that the Senator is much wonkier than Biden is. Similarly, when the moderators asked the former VP how he can beat Donald Trump when the economy is so good, Biden rejected their premise and said, "The middle class is getting killed, the middle class is getting crushed. The working class has no way up as a consequence of that." And finally, in contrast to pretty much every other debate, nobody targeted Biden with their attacks on Thursday.

The person who did get attacked was Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend). You're likely to read about "wine caves" today, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) used an alleged "wine cave" fundraiser (it was actually held in a wine cellar) as entrée to slamming the Mayor's approach to fundraising. Meanwhile, Klobuchar hit him hard on his relative lack of political experience.

Buttigieg is nonetheless on our "helped themselves" list because he did a very effective job of responding to these critiques. Taking fundraising as an example, he made several compelling counter-arguments to Warren's assertion that he's taking too much money from wealthy people. First, that he would be a fool to turn down money from rich people if it increases the chances of beating Donald Trump. The base probably nodded their heads at that one. Second, that he's not doing anything that other candidates on stage haven't done, if not during their presidential campaigns, then during their other political campaigns. "[T]his is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass," the Mayor declared. What he was alluding to is the fact that Warren raised money from fat cats when running for the Senate in the past. And third, that there is a certain hypocrisy in blasting him when he is far and away the poorest candidate on stage, and so most in tune with the struggles of those who live paycheck-to-paycheck. He specifically observed that Warren's net worth is "a hundred times [greater than] mine."

The executive summary, then, is that Klobuchar had the best overall debate, Biden protected and cemented his status as frontrunner, and Buttigieg demonstrated that he can effectively turn aside (some of) the most serious criticisms of his campaign. Which of those is the most helpful achievement? We don't know, which is why all three of them are named here.

Who helped themselves the least? Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang. Nobody on stage Thursday night had a bad performance. However, as the lowest-polling folks up there, these two needed something more than "just as good as everyone else." They needed a grand slam home run, and they didn't get it. Not helping things is that they got the least speaking time of any of the candidates; 10.9 minutes for Yang and 11.7 for Steyer. By contrast, Joe Biden got 15.4 minutes, and all the other candidates on stage clocked in with more than 19 minutes of talk time.

Anyone else worth mentioning? Since we've already mentioned the other five candidates, we might as well talk about the remaining duo here. The two progressives, Warren and Sanders, had their usual strong performances. Warren was as sharp on policy as anyone on stage; Sanders was impassioned and often very funny. They also made clear that they don't give a tinker's damn that Donald Trump plans to use transgender rights as a wedge issue, as they both loudly proclaimed their intention to push for transgender equality as president. All of this said, Warren and Sanders were not particularly outstanding relative to their other debate performances, nor relative to the other folks on stage on Thursday, and so that is why they are middle of the pack.

How did the moderators do? Mixed. They are to be commended for trying to shake things up, and for asking some interesting questions. For example, it's not too likely that boycotting the 2022 Winter Olympics (to be held in Beijing, China) will come up in any of the other debates. On the other hand, too many of the questions they asked were old and tired. The Iraq War began in 2003, which is getting close to two decades ago. Do we really need to keep asking the candidates to explain their votes on the use of force resolution? And there were several questions that crossed the line from "creative" well into "corny" territory. For example, PBS' Judy Woodruff asked a very wordy question, which she stumbled over, that was meant to tie into Christmas. The basic idea was "Would you prefer to give someone on stage a gift, or would you prefer to ask one of your fellow candidates for forgiveness?" The answers were basically useless, and for more than one candidate became an opportunity to hawk copies of their book.

Another criticism: Los Angeles is one of the most cosmopolitan and consequential cities in the world. And yet, the list of questions was tied less to the debate venue than any of the previous debates. The four folks who moderated (Woodruff, her PBS colleagues Amna Nawaz and Yamiche Alcindor, and Politico's Tim Alberta) all live and work in Virginia. Maybe they should have talked to a local or two. They could have learned that all of these nationally significant issues are particularly relevant in Los Angeles: homelessness, infrastructure and traffic congestion, labor unrest, property taxes, term limits, legalized marijuana, and the Second Amendment.

Issue of the night: Impeachment, naturally. The debate was so lengthy that many issues were touched upon, but the issue of the day (and week, and month, and year) was first up and got the most time.

Snarky line of the night: In response to Klobuchar's criticisms about his lack of experience and thus the possibility that he's not very electable, Buttigieg said: "Try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80 percent of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence's Indiana." That brought down the house.

Non-snarky line of the night: Biden was asked about the reports that he would only serve one term, if elected. Given that he does not want to commit one way or the other, he had a very good response: "I'm not even elected to one term yet. Let's see where we are. Let's see what happens."

Reddest meat of the night: Warren was asked about critics who say her tax increases will "stifle growth and investment." Her (boisterous) answer: "Oh, they're just wrong!"

She also had another winner later in the debate. When the moderators noted that, if elected, she would be the oldest president in history at the time of her inauguration, she said: "I'd also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated."

Blunder of the night: Woodruff, who was the weakest of the four moderators, confused Andrew Yang (far stage right) with Tom Steyer (far stage left). These men are rather dissimilar candidates, in quite a number of ways.

A little historical perspective: During the debate, Klobuchar quoted Martin Luther King Jr. She paraphrased a bit, but here's the original quote: "What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't have enough money to buy a hamburger?"

Although King is most famous for his efforts to secure political and civil equality, the final chapter of his career, reflecting in many ways the influence of the Black Power movement, was spent focusing on questions of economic justice. In 1967-68, he launched what he called the "Poor People's Campaign." The quote comes from a speech that King delivered on March 18, 1968, as part of that campaign, and in support of a massive labor strike of sanitation workers in Memphis, TN. Here's the complete passage:

Now, you're doing something else here. You are highlighting the economic issue. You are going beyond purely civil rights to questions of human rights...Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know, that it isn't enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't have enough money to buy a hamburger? What does it profit a man to be able to eat at the swankest integrated restaurant when he doesn't even earn enough money to take his wife out to dine? What does it profit one to have access to the hotels of our cities, and the hotels of our highways, when we don't earn enough money to take our family on a vacation? What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school when he doesn't earn enough money to buy his children school clothes?

This was one of the last speeches of King's career; he was assassinated a couple of weeks later, on April 4, 1968.

Klobuchar invoked King during a discussion of reparations and racial equality. One wonders if she was expecting the moderators to ask about the labor strike that nearly canceled the debate and, when she realized they weren't going to do so, decided this was her only opportunity to deploy the quote.

A detail that may fly under the radar: Is Buttigieg too young to know the lesson that Richard Nixon learned the hard way? Five-o-clock shadow looks sinister, so put some makeup on!

On a scale of 1-10, how contentious was it? It was a 4. Warren and Buttigieg got very snippy with each other. That was about 80% of the tension in the debate, with Klobuchar vs. Buttigieg being the other 20%. Put another way, there was some noticeable sniping, but some of the other debates had more.

On a scale of 1-10, how much will this debate move the needle? We're going to have to go with a 3. If this had been the first debate, that number would be much higher. But with Christmas less than a week away, and with many political junkies undoubtedly having gotten their fill with the impeachment hearings on Wednesday, the ratings are likely to be pretty grim.

The bottom line: Thursday night definitely showed that less is more. On that point, the DNC might also consider trimming the nearly three-hour runtime.

That's it for 2019's debate calendar. The next debate will be held on January 14, at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. The DNC hasn't announced the qualification criteria for that meeting; presumably they'll do so today or tomorrow. If the usual formula is used, then we're looking at about 240,000 donors minimum, with four national polls of 5% or more, or two early-state polls of 7% or more. (Z)

Senate Doesn't Have a Deal on Impeachment Rules

The Senate is about to leave town for the holidays without an agreement on how to conduct the trial of Donald Trump. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wants to call witnesses and introduce documents. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) just wants to get it over as fast as possible and not bother with too much evidence.

In particular, Schumer wants to hear from former NSA John Bolton, who is something of a loose cannon and could deeply hurt the defense if he tells what he knows. McConnell really wants to avoid him. Schumer also wants to hear from Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney undoubtedly knows a lot, but has been a Trump loyalist. He might be willing to lie under oath if he already has his pardon in his pocket (though see below).

When the Senate reconvenes in January, the two leaders will continue trying to come to an agreement. McConnell is in a stronger position by far, since he controls the majority, and a majority of the Senate can set any rules it wants to. Schumer is negotiating from a position of weakness, and McConnell knows that very well, so he doesn't have to budge much, if at all. (V)

Mulvaney Looks to Be a Short-Timer

Donald Trump and Mick Mulvaney are pretty different kinds of men, and to the extent that they have a relationship, it's because they are exploiting each other. Mulvaney is using Trump to gain access to power, and to advance his political goals. Trump is using Mulvaney to gain access to "insider" circles in Washington, particularly the House Freedom Caucus.

The fact that Mulvaney is still the "acting" White House Chief of Staff speaks to the fact that Trump has never really warmed up to him. On top of that, many other high-powered White House insiders—Stephen Miller, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump—don't much care for him. This is not a path to holding power in the Trump White House. And so it's no surprise to learn that Mulvaney has almost no authority over White House staff anymore, and he's being excluded from pretty much all major decisions these days. Add it all up, and—except for spending three hours a day in the White House gym killing time—Mulvaney is following the same path that his predecessor, John Kelly, did. And so, the general consensus is that as soon as the impeachment trial is over, so too is Mick the Knife.

We include this among a series of items about impeachment because it is at least possible that it could change the dynamics of Mulvaney's (hypothetical) testimony before the Senate. As we note above, it's entirely possible that he would be willing to lie for Donald Trump. That's very risky, though, particularly since if Mulvaney testifies, it probably means NSA John Bolton is also testifying, and Bolton would be in a position to say "Mick is lying." If the Acting Chief of Staff is not 100% confident of his pardon, and fears that Trump might go Michael Cohen on him, or if he's leaving the White House with a bitter taste in his mouth, he might just be a bit more forthcoming if and when he talks to the Senate. (Z)

To Avoid Conviction, Trump Needs Only 15% of the Country

Sooner or later, the Senate trial will begin. It takes 2/3 of the Senate, or 67 senators, to convict an impeached president. Put in other terms, if 34 senators vote to acquit, the president gets to keep his job.

Most of the low-population states have two Republican senators, although Montana, Maine, and West Virginia have one each. Take a look at this table of states with at least one Republican senator, sorted by population, from least to most.

Rank State Population Pct of U.S. Cum. Pct. GOP. Sens. Cum. Sens.
1 Wyoming 577,737 0.17% 0.17% 2 2
2 Alaska 737,438 0.22% 0.39% 2 4
3 North Dakota 760,077 0.23% 0.62% 2 6
4 South Dakota 882,235 0.27% 0.89% 2 8
5 Montana 1,062,305 0.32% 1.21% 1 9
6 Maine 1,338,404 0.40% 1.61% 1 10
7 Idaho 1,793,208 0.53% 2.14% 2 12
8 West Virginia 1,790,832 0.55% 2.69% 1 13
9 Nebraska 1,929,268 0.58% 3.27% 2 15
10 Kansas 2,911,505 0.88% 4.15% 2 17
11 Mississippi 2,986,530 0.90% 5.05% 2 19
12 Arkansas 3,013,825 0.91% 5.96% 2 21
13 Iowa 3,156,145 0.95% 6.91% 2 23
14 Utah 3,161,105 0.96% 7.87% 2 25
15 Oklahoma 3,943,079 1.19% 9.06% 2 27
16 Kentucky 4,468,402 1.35% 10.41% 2 29
17 Louisiana 4,659,978 1.41% 11.82% 2 31
18 Alabama 4,887,871 1.48% 13.30% 1 32
19 South Carolina 5,084,127 1.54% 14.84% 2 34

From this, we see that all it would take to save Donald Trump's skin is for the Republican senators in the 19 least-populated states to vote to acquit. Together, these states represent 15% of the U.S. population. That means that in theory (although it is not going to happen like this), senators representing 85% of the U.S. population could vote to convict Trump and he would still be acquitted.

The Washington Post did a similar calculation and found that it is theoretically possible for senators who represent 7% of the population to prevent conviction, though it considered the possibility of the Democratic senators from Vermont, Rhode Island, and other low-population states also voting to acquit. That's not going to happen. But this exercise does show how skewed the Senate is. It is basically a gerrymander of the entire country. (V)

Senate Republicans Are Praying that Trump Won't Tweet During the Trial

Senate Republicans have not forgotten that while former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was testifying before the House, Donald Trump sent out a tweet attacking her. They are afraid that during his trial, he will tweet his commentary in real time. While this probably won't change a lot of votes in the Senate, it would certainly look bad and ultimately, it is the court of public opinion that matters, particularly when it comes to the 2020 election.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said: "This is a solemn and serious undertaking and I just think we don't need a bunch of distractions." Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said: "Tweet less, smile more." Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said: "The president would be best served by letting his lawyers speak for him and not doing any comment." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said: "He needs to be respectful of the process." However, it is extremely unlikely that Trump takes their advice and will probably tweet constantly during the trial. (V)

Christianity Today Calls for Trump's Removal

Christianity Today, an evangelical Christian magazine founded by Billy Graham, reaches 2.5 million people each month. They generally try to avoid political commentary; their policy on that subject reads thusly:

As a non-profit journalistic organization, Christianity Today is doubly committed to staying neutral regarding political campaigns—the law requires it, and we serve our readers best when we give them the information and analysis they need to make their own judgments.

It would seem they suspended that policy on Thursday, at least for a day, as they published an op-ed calling for Donald Trump to be convicted on both articles of impeachment and removed from office.

The folks who run the magazine may be a tad bit more left-leaning than some evangelicals, but they are hardly bleeding-heart liberal Democrats. They make that quite clear early in the op-ed:

Let's grant this to the president: The Democrats have had it out for him from day one, and therefore nearly everything they do is under a cloud of partisan suspicion. This has led many to suspect not only motives but facts in these recent impeachment hearings. And, no, Mr. Trump did not have a serious opportunity to offer his side of the story in the House hearings on impeachment.

Although no fans of the blue team or how they conducted their inquiry, Christianity Today is nonetheless 100% clear that Trump has to go:

But the facts in this instance are unambiguous: The President of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president's political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.

The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.

The rest of the op-ed is not any friendlier to the President; the bottom line is that the editorial board of the magazine has concluded, after much thought, that he's not much of a Christian.

It is extremely unlikely that any of the 53 Republican senators who will sit in judgment of Trump take their cues directly from Christianity Today. However, if this is a sign that some meaningful segment of the evangelical community is losing faith in the President, that might affect some senators' political calculus. And it would definitely affect the dynamics of the 2020 election. Note that there are four states that Trump won by 1.2% or less, and those four are Florida (24% evangelical), Pennsylvania (19% evangelical), Wisconsin (22% evangelical), and Michigan (25% evangelical). (Z)

House Passes USMCA

Yesterday, the House approved the new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, handing Donald Trump a major win that he can brag about from now until Election Day. The vote was 385 to 41. The agreement is sure to be approved by the Senate. It replaces NAFTA.

So why did Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) give Trump a big win? She could easily have blocked it, after all. There are two main reasons. First, the content is favorable to the U.S. and especially to workers. The AFL-CIO endorsed it, which says a lot, since it has historically opposed trade deals. Second, she wants her members from swing districts to be able to go home and tell the voters that Democrats are not totally fixated on impeachment and can get stuff done. She knows that they took a tough vote on impeachment and need to be able to tell the folks back home that Congress can walk and chew gum at the same time. So Pelosi made the decision that the combination of the Democrats getting their priorities into the agreement and providing lawmakers from swing districts something to talk about was worth giving Trump some bragging rights. That does not work so well for the Democrats running for president in 2020, but their problems aren't Pelosi's problems, at least not in this case. (V)

Mark Meadows Will Not Run for Reelection

Another Republican is throwing in the towel. This one is Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC). Meadows is the co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus and one of Donald Trump's staunchest allies. If it were necessary to save Meadows, Trump would come down to North Carolina multiple times, but Meadows' district is sufficiently red that he doesn't need any help.

So why is a congressman who could easily get reelected quitting? Meadows said that he prayed on it, so it is possible God told him to quit, but the smart money is not betting on that. Possibly he will take some as-yet-unspecified role in Trump's reelection campaign. If Trump is reelected, Meadows might get a powerful job in the administration, at least for the time being. If the chief of staff slot should open up shortly (see above), that might be of interest to Meadows.

Meadows is known to be ambitious, and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) has already said he will not run for reelection in 2022, so Meadows may be gunning for a high-profile job in 2021 to put him in a stronger position for a 2022 Senate run. The current governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, is a Democrat, so Meadows might also be thinking of moving to Raleigh, possibly even as early as 2021 as Cooper is up for reelection next year. However, a gubernatorial run in 2020 would require Meadows to start running almost immediately, so the Senate in 2022 seems more likely. In any event, he is not retiring to spend more time with his family, that's for sure. (V)

If you have a question about politics, civics, history, etc. you would like us to answer on the site, please send it to, and include your initials and city of residence. If you have a comment about the site or one of the items therein, please send it to and include your initials and city of residence in case we decide to publish it. If you spot any typos or other errors on the site that we should fix, please let us know at
Email a link to a friend or share:

---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec19 House Impeaches Trump
Dec19 Trump Wanted to See George W. Bush Impeached
Dec19 Giuliani Pal Lev Parnas Received $1 Million from Ukrainian Oligarch
Dec19 Things to Watch in the Democratic Debate
Dec19 Trump Will Use Transgender Rights as a Weapon in 2020...
Dec19 ...And Democrats Will Counter with Healthcare
Dec19 Good News and Bad News for Paul Manafort
Dec19 Collins Will Run for Reelection
Dec18 Tuesday's Impeachment Maneuvering
Dec18 What Senators Are Most Likely to Buck Their Parties?
Dec18 House Passes $1.4 Trillion Spending Bills
Dec18 Georgia Follows Wisconsin's Lead
Dec18 Anti-Trump Republicans form Anti-Trump Super PAC
Dec18 Democratic Debate Is On
Dec18 Gates, Meet Walls (and Bars)
Dec17 Schumer Makes His Impeachment Counter-Moves
Dec17 Van Drew Loses Staff, Gains Two Admirers
Dec17 About that 4%...
Dec17 Thursday Debate in Serious Jeopardy
Dec17 Beware of Stereotype-Driven "Analysis"
Dec17 Some States Spend on Census, Some Don't
Dec17 Not So Fast on NAFTA 2.0
Dec16 How Trump Wins in 2020
Dec16 Booker Asks DNC to Soften the Rules for Qualifying for the Debates
Dec16 Bloomberg: Boris Johnson is the Canary in the Coal Mine
Dec16 Democrats Have Found Their 2020 Campaign Issue
Dec16 Biden Is Counting on Texas
Dec16 Fox News Poll: Half the Country Wants Trump Removed from Office
Dec16 Judge Orders 234,000 Wisconsin Voters to Be Purged from the Rolls
Dec16 New Voters Are Not Like Old Voters
Dec16 Pompeo Opens a Personal Twitter Account
Dec16 Jefferson Takes a Stand
Dec15 Sunday Mailbag
Dec14 Supreme Court to Take Up Trump Taxes
Dec14 House Judiciary Committee Makes it Official
Dec14 Saturday Q&A
Dec13 No Articles of Impeachment, Yet
Dec13 Democratic Primary Debate Dates Announced
Dec13 Beshear Restores Voting Rights to 140,000 Felons
Dec13 Senate Recognizes Armenian Genocide
Dec13 About that Trump Family Hypocrisy...
Dec13 Boris Johnson Wins Big
Dec13 Is the Third Time the Charm in Israel?
Dec12 House Judiciary Committee Debates Impeaching Trump
Dec12 Biden Might Serve Only One Term
Dec12 Biden Leads in California and Texas
Dec12 Bloomberg Donates $10 Million to Vulnerable House Democrats
Dec12 Senate Again Won't Pass Bill Fighting Foreign Meddling in U.S. Elections
Dec12 Horowitz Goes after Barr
Dec12 Republicans May Not Call Witnesses at the Impeachment Trial