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Political Wire logo Tom Steyer Tells Allies He’s Running for President
Kobach Calls Meeting of Supporters
The Democratic Primary Is More Unpredictable Than Ever
Trump Slams Fox News
Biden Falsely Claimed He Opposed Spending on Prisons
Trump Plans Environmental Speech

Trump Delivers Militaristic, but Otherwise Unremarkable, Fourth of July Speech

Everybody, including us, thought that Donald Trump had managed to fully co-opt Washington D.C.'s celebration of the Fourth of July, and to turn it into a full-blown campaign rally (except with tanks and bombers as an added "bonus"). Everything in the lead-up to the event suggested as much, from Trump's promotion of the event, to the RNC handing out VIP tickets to donors, to the military officers who expressed deep concern about the plans they were hearing.

However, Trump's much-ballyhooed address turned out to be pretty standard presidential fare. It was heavy on the militarism and patriotism, even by Fourth of July standards, and tried very hard, and very clumsily, to channel the spirit of John F. Kennedy. For example: "As long as we stay true to our course, as long as we remember our great history, as long as we never, ever stop fighting for a better future, then there will be nothing that America cannot do." In any case, the address was bereft of the other material that everyone expected. No MAGAs, no trumpeting Trump's record, no attacks on Democrats, etc.

How to make sense of this? We'll offer up three theories. The first possibility is that Trump's sense of decorum and his respect for the occasion won out over his self-promoting tendencies. However, given that he was even willing to turn an address to the Boy Scouts into a rally speech, we tend to discount this possibility. The second possibility is that, for all his willingness to stretch the rules to their breaking point, Trump was aware that he was pushing his luck, and decided to dial it back. Given his past disregard for the Hatch Act, we are also disinclined to think this is that answer. That leaves us with the third possibility, namely that Trump loves to zig when everyone else thinks he's going to zag. This seems the most likely explanation.

In any event, this episode of "The Apprentice: White House Edition" is over. We'll undoubtedly learn soon what the subject of the next episode will be. (Z)

Trump Running Out of Census Options

The drama surrounding the citizenship question on the census is starting to come into better focus. It is now certain that the government has begun printing the census forms and that, at the moment, the question is not on them. It's also clear that Donald Trump has not given up, as yet.

Exactly how it happened that the Dept. of Justice announced that the matter was being dropped, only to have the President declare that it most certainly was not being dropped, is still not entirely certain. There have been many other examples of Trump administration folks doing their own thing, and then hoping the President doesn't notice, or that he gets distracted by something else. It may very well have been that; AG Bill Barr could have seen the writing on the wall, and proceeded accordingly, only to get snapped back by the President. More likely, however, is that Justice really thought the fight was over. Maybe Trump told them as much, and then changed his mind, or maybe they interpreted the beginning of the printing process as prima facie evidence that time had run out.

The options available to the administration, at this point, are pretty limited. To move forward with the question, they would either need a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court, or else Trump might try to add it by executive order. The former is far from a sure thing and would take a while (since SCOTUS is not in session right now), the latter would be of such dubious legality as to potentially be impeachable. If Team Trump does somehow get to "yes," by hook or by crook, they would have to add the question as a supplement to the census, which would substantially reduce its effectiveness, both as a tool of data collection, and as a tool of intimidation. The administration says they will announce today what its plans are. (Z)

If Trump Doesn't Hurry, He Could Be Secretary of Defense-less

Former secretary of defense James Mattis stepped down on January 1, and was replaced by acting secretary Patrick Shanahan, followed by acting secretary Mark Esper. However, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 decrees that a position may be filled by acting officers for no more than 210 days. So, Esper's nomination to the post must be resolved by July 30. Since the Senate is not in session this week, and has a lengthy to-do list when they get back, it won't be easy.

On one hand, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) & Co. are eager to get someone approved, particularly given the current tensions with Iran. They can, and surely will, expedite the process. A speedy confirmation also reduces the chances that skeletons will be found in Esper's closet, which is good for the President, because his vetting process is slap-dash at best. On the other hand, if something does go wrong in the roughly 10 days that Esper is under the microscope, there will be no time to change course and find another nominee. On the third hand, though, if Esper is formally rejected by the Senate (Shanahan withdrew before he could be considered), it resets the 210-day clock, and would allow Trump to stick with an acting secretary (which he likes) into 2020. In short, no matter what happens, things are likely to work out well for the President, despite an exceedingly amateurish approach to the whole process. (Z)

Amash Quits GOP

About a month ago, Rep. Justin Amash (then R-MI) became the first Republican to support impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. This angered the members of the Freedom Caucus, which Amash helped found, and eventually quit the group. Then, on Thursday, he used the occasion of the nation's birth to publish an op-ed announcing that he is quitting the GOP entirely. He also blasted the two-party system, declaring that it has "evolved into an existential threat to American principles and institutions." As a result, he is now Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI).

This almost certainly means that Amash's career in Congress will end next year. It's quite difficult for independents, even those who are incumbent, to win elections. If he did run again, he would lose sizable numbers of Republican votes because of his opposition to Trump, and also because he will no longer have a (R) next to his name. A centrist might plausibly make up those lost votes from independents and Democrats, but Amash is a very far-right libertarian, and has no chance of doing so.

The Congressman is certainly clever enough that he knows this. That means that there are one of two things going on here. Either he was planning to quit Congress anyhow, and he decided to do it in a blaze of glory, with hopes of taking the folks in Washington down a notch. Alternatively, he's setting himself up to run for president as a Libertarian in 2020. Amash isn't going to win, of course, but he could steal some votes from President Trump. The tone and tenor of the op-ed certainly suggests that a presidential run is where Amash is headed.

Trump, for his part, responded thusly to the news:

The President is not named in Amash's op-ed, so either he is just taking another shot at someone who he feels insulted him, or else he fears an Amash candidacy and is trying to get out ahead of it. To get a crude sense of whether Amash could become a deciding factor, consider that Trump won Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by 10,704, 46,765, and 22,177 votes, respectively. The hacky, last-minute Gary Johnson/Bill Weld Libertarian ticket took 172,136, 146,715, and 106,674 votes in those states, respectively. If Amash runs a real campaign and improves on those numbers by 33%, taking most of his votes from Trump, then it would be enough to flip all three states assuming everything else stays the same. In short, it is at least plausible that Amash could become a real problem for Trump. (Z)

Could Ed Markey Be 2020's Joe Crowley?

If you've already forgotten the name "Joe Crowley," you are to be forgiven. He's the long-serving New York congressman who slowly drifted out of step with his constituents, and unexpectedly fell victim to a primary challenge from his left, in the form of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). There is a school of thought that Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) could be vulnerable in the exact same way in 2020.

The 72-year-old Markey has been in the Senate only since 2013, but he was first elected to Congress in 1976, meaning he's now in his fifth decade in Washington. That, and his largely centrist positions, already mark him as "old guard" and "yesterday's news" for many progressives. On top of that, however, he's also got a particularly poor polling profile, with an underwhelming 38% approval rating, and only 44% of Democrats saying they are likely to vote for him. Also interesting is that 14% of Massachusetts Democrats say they have never heard of him. That's pretty high for someone who has been in politics for more than 40 years.

Because Massachusetts has a sizable Republican minority, as well as a lot of working-class centrist Democrats, Markey isn't quite as far out of step with his constituency as Crowley was. However, if he draws a top-flight primary challenger, he would be in serious danger. Boston mayor Marty Walsh (D) has been mentioned as a possibility, and would give Markey all he could handle. Or how about Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA)? Bet Massachusetts Democrats all know who he is. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Joe Sestak

We thought we had previewed every plausible candidate for the Democratic nomination before we moved on to phase two, and started revisiting candidates. We thought wrong, however. So, here we go with the surprise late entry to the field.

Joe Sestak
  • Full Name: Joseph Ambrose Sestak Jr.

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 69

  • Background: Born in the very small town of Secane, PA (pop. less than 1,000), Sestak is the grandson of Slovakian immigrants. His mother was a math teacher, and his father a naval officer and U.S. Naval Academy graduate. Sestak attended high school in Springfield, PA, a city whose population of nearly 20,000 must have made it seem positively cosmopolitan in comparison to Secane. After high school, he followed in his father's footsteps and secured an appointment to the Naval Academy, graduating second in his class of 900 with a B.S. in American politics.

    Sestak was just young enough to avoid service in the Vietnam War, but he did serve numerous tours at sea, and in between those completed an MPA and a Ph.D. degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He eventually rose to the rank of vice admiral (three stars), and served as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Requirements and Programs. Sestak's naval career ended in controversy; he says he left the service because his daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer (she eventually recovered), others said it was because he did not get along well with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Mullen and/or that he ruffled too many feathers among the members of the Bush administration by pushing back against their militaristic posture. Because Sestak held three-star rank for only a short time, he was officially retired as a two-star admiral (a.k.a. rear admiral, upper half).

  • Political Experience: In 2006, shortly after the end of his military career, Sestak declared a run in PA-07, which was then a solidly-Republican district. His incumbent opponent, Curt Weldon (R), was weakened by an ongoing FBI investigation and by his insistence that weapons of mass destruction would eventually be found in Iraq. Sestak won easily, taking 56% of the vote, and then crushed Wendell Craig Williams (R) in 2008, 60% to 40%. In the House, Sestak earned a reputation for being efficient, productive, and doing a great job with constituent services. He seemed to be a rising star in the Party, and decided to challenge then-Senator Arlen Specter in the 2010 primaries. Specter was barely a Democrat, having just switched from the Republican Party, and so Sestak knocked him off, 53% to 47%. That was the high point of the former admiral's political career, however. He lost the general election to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) by two points. Sestak returned for another go-round in 2016, and didn't even make it past the primary, losing to newbie Katie McGinty.

  • Signature Issue(s): Sestak has already made clear that the main issues he will run on are climate change and reining in Russia and China.

  • Instructive Quote: "There's no more kings, there's no more kingmakers in America."

  • Completely Trivial Fact: The United States has had plenty of presidents who were generals (12 of them, in fact), but has never had an admiral. Should Sestak be elected, he would easily outrank all previous naval presidents: Commanders Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson, Lt. Commander Gerald Ford, Lieutenants John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, and Lieutenant (JG) George H. W. Bush.

  • Recent News: Sestak is known for his willingness to get out there among the voters and press the flesh. During his 2010 Senate campaign, he literally walked across Pennsylvania (a little over 400 miles). Since his announcement, he's essentially taken up residence in Iowa, putting the Jimmy Carter campaign model (win Iowa, get momentum from that) to the test.

  • Three Biggest Pros for the General Election: (1) Some people really like voting for flag officers, (2) Sestak clearly has substantial crossover appeal, and (3) Nobody is going to out-work the Admiral when it comes to campaigning.

  • Three Biggest Cons for the General Election: (1) Sestak has alienated a lot of voters and a lot of Democratic pooh-bahs with his past iconoclasm, (2) The Democratic wing of the Democratic Party hates him, and (3) He's starting late and has less than $100 on hand, which means he will constantly struggle for funds.

  • Is He Actually Running?: You betcha.

  • Betting Odds: No odds from any book, which means that the bettors view him as less likely to become president than Katy Perry, Susan Sarandon, Kanye West, Jim Webb, or Marianne Williamson.

  • The Bottom Line: Either Sestak wants to give some oxygen to his pet ideas, or he wants a job offer as MSNBC's military affairs analyst. He is not going to be president in 2021, or any other year.

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
Jul04 Trump: Citizenship Question Will Be Included in the Census
Jul04 Trump Defends Cost of the Independence Day Event
Jul04 Ninth Circuit Bars Military Funds for Wall
Jul04 Biden Raises $21.5 Million in Q2
Jul04 Trump is Worried that Key Republican Groups Won't Help Him in 2020
Jul04 Trump's Campaign and RNC Raise $105 Million in Q2
Jul04 Warren Leads in Iowa Poll
Jul04 Democrats Would Be Disappointed If Williamson Were Their Nominee
Jul04 Mark Kelly Hauls in $4.2 Million in Q2
Jul04 Poll: Half of Republicans See the Media as the Enemy of the People
Jul04 Thursday Q&A
Jul03 One Fight Ends...
Jul03 ...And Another One Is Just Getting Started
Jul03 Fourth of July: Tanks for the Memories
Jul03 We Have a (Minor?) Mike Pence Mystery
Jul03 More Good Polls for Harris
Jul03 Sanders' Goose Is Getting Crispy...
Jul03 ...While Hickenlooper's Is Already Cooked
Jul02 A Weekend of Foreign Policy, Trump-Style
Jul02 ICE Raids Are Apparently Back On
Jul02 Census Delay Looking More Likely
Jul02 Social Media Platforms Take (Small) Steps to Combat Abuses
Jul02 Two More Post-Debate Polls Are Out
Jul02 Buttigieg Takes in Nearly $25 Million
Jul02 Collins Now Has a Serious Challenger
Jul01 Second Debate Sets Viewing Record
Jul01 Harris Raises $2 Million in 24 Hours after Debate
Jul01 Harris' Attack on Biden Was Carefully Choreographed, Months in Advance
Jul01 Harris Jumps Way Up after Debate
Jul01 Democrats Defend Harris after Trump Jr.'s Tweet
Jul01 Pelosi and Schumer Feel Betrayed--By Each Other
Jul01 Judge Blocks Wall
Jul01 Florida Governor Signs Bill that De Facto Redisenfranchises Felons
Jul01 Monday Q&A
Jun30 Trump Says He's Talking with China, North Korea
Jun30 Trump to Putin: Don't Meddle in the Election (Wink, Wink!)
Jun30 41 Republicans Oppose Iran Amendment
Jun30 SCOTUS to Take on DACA
Jun30 Democratic Debate(s) Postmortem
Jun30 Debate Q&A
Jun28 And Now, the Heavyweight Debate
Jun28 SCOTUS: Partisan Gerrymandering is None of Our Business
Jun28 Supreme Court Blocks Citizenship Question for the Moment
Jun28 Trump Is at the G-20 in Japan
Jun28 Booker: I Wouldn't Be Biden's Veep
Jun28 Pelosi Capitulates
Jun27 The Democrats Finally Debate
Jun27 Trump Attacks Mueller
Jun27 Mueller's Staff Will Also Testify
Jun27 House Committee Subpoenas Kellyanne Conway