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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden, Trump Trade Shots in Iowa
      •  Biden Running a Very General Campaign
      •  Democratic Field Appears to Have Many Trump Slayers
      •  House Votes to Enforce Subpoenas
      •  Trump Jr. Will Talk to Senate Intelligence Committee Today
      •  What "America First" Apparently Meant
      •  Gay Pride Flags Fly at U.S. Embassies

Biden, Trump Trade Shots in Iowa

Joe Biden did not find time in his schedule to attend the Iowa cattle call this weekend, and his apparent neglect of the Hawkeye State aggravated the state's Democratic leadership. The former Veep and current Democratic frontrunner was there yesterday, however. So was Donald Trump, who appeared at a fundraiser in West Des Moines. That both men should be in Iowa at the same time was presumably no coincidence, and each spent a fair bit of time tearing the other down.

Biden, for his part, described Trump as an "existential threat to America," and also stopped a heckler from being ejected from one of his events, noting that "this is not a Trump rally." Trump's contribution to the...uh...dialog was to opine that Barack Obama took Biden "off the trash heap" in 2008, and to declare that Biden is slowing down in his old age: "He looks different than he used to. He acts different than he used to. He's even slower than he used to be." Pot, meet kettle. The President's overall conclusion was that "Joe Biden is a dummy."

We are still almost a year and a half from Election Day, but Tuesday's potshotting tells us two important things. The first is that Biden has adopted a very different approach to Trump from that of the rest of the Democratic field. The other folks don't actually take aim at the President all that often, and they certainly don't roll up their sleeves and brawl with him. That would seem to be consistent with the lessons of the 2016 election, where Hillary Clinton's attacks on Trump didn't gain her many voters, took time and attention away from her policy ideas, and energized Trump's base. Biden, however, has made very clear that he's going to give as good as he gets, and that he will trade shots with the President anytime Trump wants to get down in the mud.

The other thing that is already evident is that Trump and his supporters see Biden as their biggest threat (which, at least according to the polls—see below—is a correct assessment). So, they are already zooming in on him, and are already trying out lines of attack. It is no mistake that Trump made snarky remarks about Biden's health and fitness the exact same week that Fox News personalities, including the mononymous Kennedy and Trump BFF Sean Hannity, began doing the same thing.

As a sidebar, attacking Biden's health and physical fitness without justification is outrageous and ageist. It also repeats a technique that was deployed, with some success, against Hillary Clinton in 2016. It's true that many folks have raised questions about Trump's physical fitness. That includes us; we've done so many times, including in the item you're reading right now (see the second paragraph). However, there actually is evidence that Trump's health is less than stellar; he's clearly overweight, his poor diet and disdain for exercise are well known, and his public utterances, as compared to those he delivered 10 or 20 years ago, show clear indications of cognitive decline. Further, people who are actually healthy don't fudge at least two different reports from two different physicians testifying to their fitness. Point is that, in the absence of new information, comments on Biden's health and comments on Trump's health are apples and oranges.

In any event, it's only June of 2019, and yet the campaign has taken on a form more consistent with June 2020. If Joe Biden is indeed the blue team's nominee, then we already have a very good idea of what things are going to look like. The big question is: Will he get the nod? (Z)

Biden Running a Very General Campaign

The campaign that Joe Biden is running is quite different from that of his Democratic rivals, in at least three distinct ways. The first, as noted above, is that he is locking horns with Donald Trump much more aggressively than any of the other Democrats. On the other hand, he's abiding by the Democratic version of Ronnie Reagan's 11th Commandment of Politics: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any other Democrat." Actually, Biden is following a modified version of the 11th Commandment: "Thou shalt not speak of any other Democrat." Uncle Joe rarely says anything about his rivals, and largely acts as if they don't exist.

That leads us to the second major difference in Biden's strategy: he has been skipping the various cattle calls, pancake breakfasts, fish frys, and other events that Democratic contenders are expected to attend. Quite often, he's the only candidate among the frontrunners who is absent. And third, Biden's policy statements are very obviously tailored to centrist and independent voters, whereas most of his rivals are making at least some sort of play for the progressives. For example, he's been testing out the message that Trump voters aren't bad people, they just made a mistake in 2016, and they now see the error of their ways. That's pretty far removed from "basket of deplorables." And flip-flops on the Hyde Amendment notwithstanding, Biden has done very little to connect with the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

What this amounts to is that the Democratic frontrunner has made two very bold tactical decisions. The first is that he's got the nomination in the bag, and so he can begin running his general election campaign now. The second is that the progressives hate Trump so much, and are so mindful of the lessons of 2016 (where Jill Stein may have cost Hillary Clinton some key states), that they will hold their noses and vote for whomever the Democrats nominate. After all, a reluctant vote and an enthusiastic vote count exactly the same.

Will it work? Well, Biden is definitely polling better than any other Democrat right now, and it's not especially close (see below for more). However, his margin for error is smaller than it appears. Consider the average support of the frontrunners across all the major polls of the Democratic field:

Candidate Average
Joe Biden 32.8%
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) 17.3%
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) 9.2%
Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) 7.2%
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) 7.2%

At some point in the next eight months, Biden needs to grow his support by 20% or so, and the question of where those votes are going to come from is a good one. He's the most famous member of the Democratic field so, in contrast to a Kamala Harris or a Pete Buttigieg, it's not as if there are vast numbers of voters who have yet to discover him or to figure out what he's all about. Meanwhile, if we look at the other folks who are claiming a reasonable chunk of the support, is Biden likely to be the next choice for any of their supporters? Maybe Harris, but that's far from certain, and the other three are all very different kinds of candidates from Biden. It certainly looks as if the stage is set for one of the lefty candidates to emerge as the progressive flag-bearer, and that person will command support similar to the support Biden enjoys right now.

What the former veep really needs is for the field to remain somewhat large and unwieldy until, at very least, Super Tuesday is over. If he can claim 40-50% of the delegates through March 3, with three or four other Democrats splitting the rest, he'll be in great shape as the field begins to narrow. Then, assuming that he does claim the nomination, he'll need to hope he's right that the progressives will vote for whatever name appears on the "Democratic" line on the ballot. (Z)

Democratic Field Appears to Have Many Trump Slayers

Whether Joe Biden ultimately does claim the nomination, or he's overtaken by one of the other Democrats, Team Trump has plenty to be nervous about. A new poll from Quinnipiac affirms what other polls have shown, namely that the President looks to be an underdog to most or all of the leading Democratic nominees.

Biden, of course, is pulling the best numbers; the poll has him up 13 points on Trump (53%-40%). That is followed by Bernie Sanders' 11-point lead (51%-42%), Kamala Harris' 8-point lead (49%-41%), and Elizabeth Warren's 7-point lead (49%-42%). Things get a little closer when it's Pete Buttigieg or Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ); they both outpace the President by just 5 points (47%-42%).

If the President is looking for a silver lining, it's this: thanks to the magic of the Electoral College, he lost the popular vote by 2% in 2016 and still won the election. Plus, these polls have a 3-to-4-point margin of error, so—until we have more precise data in the form of state-level polling—any matchup where Trump (or his rival) is within 5 points or so can reasonably be considered a tossup. On the other hand, if the President is looking for something to worry about (beyond the fact that several candidates appear to be in a position to trounce him), he's trailing many different kinds of Democratic candidates, who come from all different parts of the spectrum. That suggests strongly that he's going to be up against a "kick the bums out" (well, a "kick the bum out") mentality in 2020, regardless of his opponent. (Z)

House Votes to Enforce Subpoenas

It would appear that the chorus of "Kumbaya" that everyone was singing on Monday came to an end on Tuesday. Although the Dept. of Justice agreed to share some of the evidence collected by former special counsel Robert Mueller, the House nonetheless voted on Tuesday to hold AG William Barr, former White House counsel Don McGahn, and the others who have not responded to subpoenas in contempt.

There was some suggestion on Monday that the House would hold off on taking this action, but it's really not surprising they decided to move forward. Undoubtedly, Barr is going to withhold the juiciest stuff when he turns over whatever he's going to turn over. Further, the Democrats want much more from Barr, McGahn, et al. than just stuff related to the Mueller investigation. And finally, it's going to take a while to move this whole subpoena debate through the court system, and every day the blue team does not move forward runs the risk that this does not get resolved in time for next year's election. Anyhow, it is probably wise for them not to expect much more cooperation from the DoJ. (Z)

Trump Jr. Will Talk to Senate Intelligence Committee Today

Speaking of the chess game that is taking place between Congress and Team Trump right now, the day has arrived for Donald Trump Jr. to appear again before the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee. Young Trump did not want to make a second appearance, but in the end, he didn't have much choice.

Because Trump Jr. surrendered somewhat gracefully, he was able to get a few concessions from the Committee. His testimony will be behind closed doors, and will be limited to four hours or less and to no more than six pre-agreed topics of conversation. Undoubtedly, the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya will be one of those six. Beyond that, however, who knows what will be said, or whether anyone outside that room will hear about it? So maybe the appearance will be the lead story for every media outlet on Thursday, or maybe (and probably more likely) there will be nothing to report. Of course, Junior is not out of the woods yet. House Intelligence Committee Chairmain Adam Schiff (D-CA) could also subpoena him and hold his feet to the fire in public. Before issuing a subpoena though, Schiff might decide to have a chat with the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner (D-VA), to see if Junior said anything that the public might be interested in. (Z)

What "America First" Apparently Meant

When Donald Trump took office, said he was putting "America First," and started putting the screws to America's closest allies, the argument was that it was time for France, Germany, the UK, etc., to become more self-reliant, and less U.S.-reliant. Ostensibly, they were supposed to start paying more of the bills for their own self-defense, and for the U.S. to start paying fewer.

Whether Trump's approach was the correct one is open to debate. However, it has been paying some dividends, as the various nations are taking steps to carry more of the load. So, good news, right? Actually, not so much from the perspective of Team Trump. Very predictably, the various NATO/EU nations have started pumping more money into their own defense industries. What that means is that they are preparing to pay more of their own bills, but they are not planning to buy from American suppliers. Hence the administration's irritation, since defense contracts are carefully distributed across nearly all of the 50 states, and are very important to many local economies.

In short, the military-industrial complex appears to be alive and well. Further, if "America First" ultimately undercuts the amount of business that defense contractors do, we could be looking at something of a backdoor version of the trade war and its political/economic effects. Meanwhile, the "friendship tree" that Trump and Emmanuel Macron planted when the French president visited the White House has died. If that's not a metaphor, we don't know what is. (Z)

Gay Pride Flags Fly at U.S. Embassies

This administration is pretty good at creating needless controversies. And so it is with the current squabble over gay pride month. During the latter part of the Obama administration, some of America's embassies developed a custom of flying the rainbow flag in honor of the occasion. This year, however, permission to do so was denied.

The official explanation for this change, provided courtesy of noted LGBTQ advocate Mike Pence, is that the focus should be on the U.S. flag, and that it's not apropos to fly other flags. This is nonsense; the U.S. flag code most definitely envisions the flying of multiple flags, and lays out very clear rules for that occasion (in essence, the U.S. flag has to be higher than the others or, if that is not possible, has to be in the farthest right position). This is all a pretty obvious anti-LGBTQ dog whistle, although it's made a bit stranger by these tweets from Donald Trump:

Is it really possible to have it both ways like this? Maybe so, if the godless New Yorker plays good cop, and the fundamentalist Hoosier plays bad cop.

There's also one other angle to this story. Although the various embassies are ostensibly forbidden from flying the rainbow flag, many of them are finding ways around the prohibition, as the story linked in the first paragraph describes. For example, the U.S. consulates in Seoul and in Chennai both mounted rainbow flags on their office's facade (instead of flying them from the flag pole), while the embassy in New Delhi is being lit with raindow-colored lights. One diplomat described it as a "category one insurrection." And if the diplomats are willing to defy the president so openly on this issue, one wonders exactly how well his orders are being followed when it's behind closed doors. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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