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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Starts to Assemble His Defense Team
      •  Biden Waffles on Subpoena
      •  Who's Ahead in Iowa?
      •  The Gender Gap in 2020 Could Be Unprecedented
      •  Bloomberg Hires 200 Staffers in March and April Primary States
      •  Florida is Too Important to Ignore
      •  Cybersecurity Threats Loom in 2020
      •  James Lankford Doesn't See Trump as a Role Model

Trump Starts to Assemble His Defense Team

Donald Trump may think that his impeachment is a hoax and a witch hunt, but he is also beginning to realize that there will be a trial in the Senate in January and that he had better start hiring lawyers to defend him. Some of the leading prospects to be on the defense team include these lawyers:

  • Pat Cipollone: Cipollone, the White House Counsel, has played an important role in the entire impeachment process so far and is expected to continue in that role. Cipollone talks regularly with Republican senators about the upcoming trial. In a criminal case, that would be called jury tampering, and is a federal felony. He has also written many of the letters to House Democrats that characterize the impeachment process as an attempt by the Democrats to overturn the 2016 election. Cipollone normally operates out of the limelight, but during the trial, he may get to play Perry Mason on the big stage. And in case you are wondering, Bill Clinton's White House Counsel, Charles Ruff, played a central role in that impeachment trial. Unlike the AG, it's ok for the White House Counsel to act like he is the president's personal lawyer.

  • Alan Dershowitz: Since the impeachment, Dershowitz has argued that since Trump has not been accused of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors, he is not guilty. Apparently abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are not high crimes in his book. Dershowitz, an emeritus professor at the Harvard Law School, would be an interesting pick, given his previous work for Jeffrey Epstein. He is more likely to be a TV lawyer rather than an actual lawyer, though.

  • Jay Sekulow: Sekulow, who is a self-described Messianic Jew, is chief counsel for the Christian advocacy group American Center for Law and Justice. He was Trump's main TV lawyer during the Mueller investigation, but has not played much of a role lately, although he is involved in the legal fight over Trump's tax returns.

So it may be that Cipollone ends up being the main actual lawyer, with Dershowitz and Sekulow handling the spin. But it is also possible that Trump could bring in some House Republicans to help out. Reps. Doug Collins (GA), Mike Johnson (LA), Jim Jordan (OH), and John Ratliffe (TX) are all pitbulls and love to grandstand on camera, so some of them might also get the nod to join the team.

Whoever gets the job will have a strange role to fulfill. Normally, the task of a defense lawyer is to convince an impartial jury that his or her client is innocent. Here, the situation is kind of different, since a slight majority of the jury knows that the client is guilty but doesn't care and has already decided to vote for acquittal. So what's the lawyer supposed to do? (V)

Biden Waffles on Subpoena

On Friday, Joe Biden said that if the Senate issued a subpoena for him to appear during Donald Trump's trial, he wouldn't appear because it would be a distraction. Not surprisingly, his comment got a lot of blowback. Did it not occur to him that when the leading Democratic presidential candidate announced that he was fine with breaking the law, it was going to get some publicity?

By Saturday, Biden saw the error of his ways and started to backtrack. In a tweet, he said that he always obeys the law and that there was no legal basis for him to be subpoenaed. Of course, that doesn't retract the original statement, although it suggests a way out, namely, to say he would obey a lawful subpoena, but not an unlawful one, such as a political one Senate Republicans lobbed in his direction. If a subpoena arrived at his doorstep, who would decide if it was lawful? Biden himself?

Later, in Iowa, he continued backtracking, this time telling an audience: "I would obey any subpoena sent to me." What has Biden gained by all this? Nothing, but he probably hasn't lost much either, as people have come to see him as a gaffe machine and this is just the most recent one (of many). On the other hand, he probably did give the defenders of Trump some ammunition, since his comments suggest that subpoenas are optional, based on how legitimate the recipient thinks they are. (V)

Who's Ahead in Iowa?

The short answer to the question "Who is ahead in Iowa?" is: We don't know. The Iowa caucuses don't always pick winners, but they frequently pick losers. Any of the 15 remaining Democratic candidates who don't finish in the top half dozen might as well pack up and go home because it's over for them. Right now, we really don't have a good idea of what might happen there on Feb. 3 for a couple of reasons, as CNN's Harry Enten points out.

First, in the past month, only two public polls of Iowa have been published, and neither used live interviewers and neither called cell phones. That's not a great start. Second, the top candidates are clumped together, with Pete Buttigieg at 21%, and Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at 19% each. Given the uncertainty of the polls, any one of them could easily be the leader. They are followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) at 15% and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) at 6%. Nobody else breaks even 5%. Third, at any individual caucus site, any candidate failing to hit 15% in the first vote is eliminated and his or her supporters have to pick someone else. Assuming Buttigieg, Biden, Sanders, and Warren hit the mark, they account for only 74% of the vote. What the other 26% do on the second ballot matters a lot, and we have little current data on that, although in some (older) polls, Warren seems to be a popular second choice. Fourth, if Sanders, Warren, and Klobuchar have to spend January in D.C. sitting in a Senate trial of Donald Trump, that gives free rein to Buttigieg and Biden to roam the Hawkeye State pretty much without any serious competition.

Enten is concerned that there have been so few polls and speculates on the reasons:

  • Quality polls are expensive and media outlets on tight budgets are less and less willing to sponsor them
  • With Donald Trump's impeachment about to suck up all the oxygen, why poll when nobody is paying attention?
  • There is no Republican caucus, so outlets can't get two stories for the price of one
  • Pollsters may be a bit gun shy after 2016

In short, patience is in order. (V)

The Gender Gap in 2020 Could Be Unprecedented

John Gray says that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Perhaps. If so, well, Mars is the red planet, so Venus must be the blue planet. In the last two CNN/SSRS polls, the leading Democrat (Joe Biden) beats Donald Trump 60% to 36% among women. That's +24% for the Democrats. Among men, it is 52% for Trump and 42% for Biden. That's +10% for Trump. Combining these, we get a 34% gender gap here. From 1952 to 1980, men and women voted roughly the same way. Then the gap started to appear, with women being more Democratic than men. In 2016, the gender gap was +25% for Hillary Clinton. Maybe that was because Clinton was the first female major-party nominee, but now it looks like the gender of the nominee doesn't matter. Women simply do not like Donald Trump.

When you dig into the crosstabs, it gets more striking. Among nonwhite women, the gap is a stunning 59%. In a Biden-Trump matchup, white women with college degrees support Biden by 28 points. Among white women without college degrees, Trump leads by 4 points. However, he won that group in 2016 by 23 points, so they have moved 19 points away from Trump since 2016.

All this means that Trump needs to either rev up support even more among men or at least stop being hated so much by women. In the past, whenever Trump perceived trouble on the horizon, he doubled down on his base—and never attempted to broaden it. So, our guess is that he will spend the next 10 months feeding red meat to white men and to hell with everyone else. But if women vote in large numbers in 2020, it could spell big trouble for the President. (V)

Bloomberg Hires 200 Staffers in March and April Primary States

Michael Bloomberg is still the longest of longshots to win the Democratic nomination, but it won't be for lack of trying. Or, at very least, for lack of spending. He has hired over 200 staffers to swarm out in 21 states that vote in March and April. He is not competing in the four early states. The last "major" candidate to skip all the early states and bet the farm on what came next was Rudy Giuliani in 2008. That didn't work so well, and probably won't for Bloomberg, either, unless Joe Biden suddenly collapses.

Although Bloomberg and Giuliani were both New York City mayors before running, there is a key difference between them: money. Giuliani was no pauper, but Bloomberg is worth north of $50 billion. He can dump $100 million, $200 million, even $500 million into a campaign and not even notice the money is missing. If he decides that 200 staffers is not enough, he can raise that to 1,000 staffers without batting any eye. With the kind of money Bloomberg has, he can hire experienced, top-of-the-line state directors (who may not think he has a chance, but like the pay). For example, he snagged Carla Brailey, the vice chair of the Texas Democratic Party, to run his operation in the Lone Star State. In California, he hired Kyle Layman, who was formerly the western states political director for the DCCC. His Florida campaign will be run by Brandon Davis, a former chief of staff at the DNC who also ran Andrew Gillum's (unsuccessful) campaign for governor of Florida in 2018. In short, he has hired some of the best Democratic strategists and given them effectively unlimited budgets.

But in the end, we come back to the old joke about the dog food company that was having trouble, so it hired a top animal nutritionist, a brilliant packaging guru, and a superb marketing team. When nothing moved the needle, the CEO hired a consultant to find out why. When he reported back, the CEO said: "I have all these great people, so what's wrong?" The consultant meekly said: "The dogs won't eat the product." In the end, if the Democratic voters don't especially care for a 77-year-old billionaire with close ties to Wall Street, all the money in the world won't save Bloomberg. But the big question is what he does after his (very likely) withdrawal from the race in March or April. If he decides to spend a few hundred million dollars to take down Trump, he won't be a kingmaker, but he could be a king breaker.

But even if Bloomberg ultimately doesn't make it, he is testing out strategies and doing polling on a scale never before attempted in a primary. He has concluded that 10-15% of the people who voted for Trump in 2016 are open to reconsidering their choice. A lot of his advertising is aimed at that group. For example, Bloomberg is telling these voters that the Republicans are trying their level best to repeal the ACA, but have no plan to replace it. That, of course, is true. He is also harping on Trump's failure to address the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Another Bloomberg theme is how Trump has lavished benefits on the very wealthy, but done nothing for ordinary Americans. His model is simple, but expensive. First he runs a poll in some city or state. Then he saturates the airwaves with ads on a specific theme. Finally, he polls again and looks to see what effect the ads had. Rinse and repeat in other cities and states and with many themes. The data he is collecting on these and similar issues could prove valuable to the Democrats in the general election. (V)

Florida is Too Important to Ignore

By the time Florida's Democratic voters go to the polls on March 17, 25 states and four territories will have already voted and nearly half the delegates will have been chosen. Nevertheless, if the delegates are badly split among multiple candidates come March 17, the Sunshine State may get its 15 minutes of fame, after all. Political strategist Screven Watson joked that, so far, Florida has been the stomping grounds of the candidates' third cousins, spouses, and siblings, but pretty soon they were going to have to eat their political veggies and show up in person. Not only are Florida's 219 delegates important, but 8 months later, its 29 electoral votes could determine whether Donald Trump goes to the White House or the big house.

Florida's primary date has been controversial for years. In 2008, the state got resentful of the four itsy-bitsy and unrepresentative early states and scheduled its primary in January, in violation of party rules. The Democrats punished the Floridians by stripping them of half of their delegates. Unrepentant, Florida did it again in 2012. Finally, in 2016, the good people of the Sunshine State got the message not to mess with Iowa and moved the primary to mid-March, after Super Tuesday, where it will be in 2020.

As we note above, very few candidates have personally campaigned in Florida so far, as they are basically all holed up in the four early states, and the surrogates they have sent are somewhat underwhelming. Pete Buttigieg sent his husband. So did Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). Joe Biden sent his wife. However, the lack of attention is starting to change. Billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer are spending heavily in the air war and Elizabeth Warren is building up her infrastructure in all of Florida's 67 counties.

Florida is a very diverse state. Almost 37% of the registered voters are Democrats, while 35% are Republicans. Most of the rest are not affiliated with a party. Florida is a closed-primary state, so only Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary, although any Republicans or independents who want to do so can re-register as Democrats. Many non-Floridians think that Florida voters are a bunch of old geezers, but that's not true. The age cohorts of 50-64 and 30-49 are both bigger than the 65+ voters. Whites make up 68% of voters, with Latinos second at 14%, and black folks third at 13%. The vast majority of black voters are Democrats. Latinos are somewhat more Democratic than Republican, with the Puerto Ricans around Orlando being Democrats and the Cubans in Miami-Dade County being Republicans. If you are interested in the political demographic breakdown of Florida, check out this page.

Florida is a large, expensive, and complex state, with many regions and media markets. There haven't been a lot of polls there yet, but the most recent one has Joe Biden at 27%, Elizabeth Warren at 21%, Bernie Sanders at 17%, and nobody else at even 5%. But even if there are more polls there, by the time Florida votes some candidates may have dropped out or been so badly wounded by the first 29 primaries and caucuses that their supporters begin looking for a different horse to ride. (V)

Cybersecurity Threats Loom in 2020

Robert Mueller determined that, without a doubt, Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Virtually all security officials expect a repeat performance in 2020, possibly even more extensive, based on what was learned in the 2016 project. There are three general areas in which problems can be expected:

  • Election Security: In 2016, the Russians probably didn't get into the voting (or vote counting) machines to change any votes (at least as far as we know), but that could be on the Russian agenda in 2020. What Russia did (successfully) do in 2016 is penetrate voter registration systems in many states. The Russians will certainly try that again since so many of them use ancient technology and are managed by people with no background (or interest) in cybersecurity. From the Russian point of view, finding precincts that are heavily Democratic and removing voters from the rolls there is half as good as flipping their votes. If enough Democrats can be prevented from voting, that could make the difference between winning or losing a state. Congress has responded to the threat by appropriating money for better security, but the states have to figure out what they want, put out tenders for better equipment, accept bids, pick winners, buy the equipment, install it, and train workers to use it. That is asking a lot from extremely ill-equipped state and local governments.

  • Ransomware Attacks: A new trend is for attackers to get into a computer system and then encrypt the contents of the disk, rendering the system unusable. The encryption is then followed by a note from the attacker asking for a certain number of (untraceable) bitcoins to be given to the attackers, after which the attackers promise to provide the decryption keys. Attacks of this type have wreaked havoc in Baltimore, New Orleans, and Pensacola this year, as well as a number of small towns in Texas. It is technically not hard to foil such attacks, by having backups of the main disk and not having them online except when the backup is being made. Alternatively, backups could be made on cloud servers run by Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and other big players. For an attacker to outwit a small town in Texas is one thing; for the attacker to outwit Amazon's security department is a whole different ball of wax. But making backups requires buying or renting storage space and having systems that automatically make backups. Mostly it requires government agencies to stop saying: "It can't happen to us, so why bother?"

  • Foreign Apps: Smartphone apps written by foreign government hackers whose real purpose is to steal information are a new threat. FaceApp (a face transformation app brought to you by Russian government hackers) and TikTok (a video sharing app brought to you by Chinese government hackers) are recent examples of foreign surveillance apps. They can collect huge amounts of information, which can then be mined to find compromising information on candidates, their staff members, elected officials at all levels, and their friends and families. Nobody has a good handle on how to deal with these, since the apps rarely announce that their true purpose is surveillance. Check out the FaceApp and TikTok links above. Clicking on the links is safe; just DON'T download the apps. Do you see any announcement that these are surveillance apps from sophisticated hackers working for foreign governments? The chance that these apps can be stopped is close to zero, since the bad ones can easily hide among the millions of good ones. If Apple and Samsung made a huge effort to prevent apps from getting at information they don't legitimately need, the Chinese government would probably respond by heavily subsidizing Huawei (which works closely with the Chinese government). By allowing Huawei to greatly undercut Apple and Samsung on price, millions of people would buy the cheap Huawei smartphones, thus becoming surveillance targets. This model works fine for China since its goal is surveillance, not making a profit.

And then there is the whole issue of active disinformation campaigns, in which false news stories are widely spread on social media, but that is a different can of worms.

The biggest problem, though, is not technical, and probably not even financial. It is convincing government officials that there is a massive threat to democracy here and that heroic measures are needed—and right now, not some time in the coming years. (V)

James Lankford Doesn't See Trump as a Role Model

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who has a Master's degree in divinity from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" yesterday that he doesn't think Donald Trump is a good role model for children. It is at least possible that while getting his Master's, Lankford picked up a little bit about what Jesus believed and taught. Lankford noted: "I don't like the way he tweets, some of the things he says, his word choices at times are not my word choices." He also noted that he is not raising his own children to be mini-Trumps.

This is hardly an out-and-out condemnation of someone who acts like a third-grade schoolyard bully most of the time and loves to pick on people weaker than he is. Still, for a sitting Republican senator to publicly say anything critical of Trump is extremely rare.

But it isn't the case that the other Republican senators just don't know the score. Many of them do, but they are scared to death to say anything that angers either Trump or the Republican leadership. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) claims that 5 to 10 Republican senators have severe misgivings about the kangaroo impeachment court that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants to run instead of a serious trial of Donald Trump. But having the senators tell Blumenthal this privately is different from having them come out and say it in public. In this light, even Lankford's ever-so-mild criticism of Trump is very surprising. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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