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Political Wire logo New Evidence of Feud Between Former First Ladies
Exchange of the Day
Letter Suggests Mueller Won’t Say Much About Trump
GOP Senators Mostly Silent as Trump Bashes McCain
Democrats Not Expecting Much from Mueller Report
Some Republicans Already Conceding Popular Vote

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump: Let the Public See Mueller's Report
      •  Hicks May Sing Like a Canary
      •  Trump Escalates Feuds with Conway, Ghost of McCain
      •  "Mick the Knife" about to Lose "Acting" Tag
      •  Germans Not Enthused about Trump's Ambassador
      •  Sanders Criticized for New Hire
      •  Thursday Q&A

Trump: Let the Public See Mueller's Report

Donald Trump had one of his impromptu "chat with the press" sessions, at which he is known to say, well, just about anything that comes into his mind. And, asked about the Mueller report, Trump shocked the gaggle of reporters by declaring that he would absolutely like to see the Mueller report made public. "Let it come out, let people see it," the President declared. "Let's see whether or not it's legit."

This is, of course, the same person who announced that he would be happy to sit down for a chat with Mueller, that he would make his tax returns public as soon as his "audit" was over, and that he would absolutely take ownership of the government shutdown. Trump backpedaled on all of those promises, and he's certain to backpedal on this one. Heck, the backpedaling started just minutes after he made the initial statement, as Trump strove to undermine the legitimacy of the whole enterprise. "I just won one of the greatest elections of all time in the history of this country...And now I have somebody writing a report that never got a vote?" the President said. "It's called the Mueller report. So explain that because my voters don't get it. And I don't get it."

So, Trump's commitment to making the report public doesn't necessarily mean much of anything. Still, there's now video footage of him committing to that course of action, and that footage could come back to haunt him. Perhaps more importantly, the Donald's verbiage on Wednesday gives AG Bill Barr a fair bit of cover to release the document, if that is what he wants to do. So, the President may come to regret his loose lips, which could just sink his ship. (Z)

Hicks May Sing Like a Canary

Speaking of loose lips, it would appear that former Trump PR person and confidante Hope Hicks may have them, too. On Wednesday, it was reported that she plans to cooperate with House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY), providing him with the documents he's requested, and also to sit for interviews and/or testimony, as needed.

Time will tell exactly how forthcoming Hicks actually is. After all, Paul Manafort agreed to cooperate with the authorities, and then apparently endeavored to deceive them in order to save Donald Trump's skin. Maybe Hicks will follow the same path. On the other hand, she wasn't in Trump's orbit all that long, she's probably unhappy about how the administration handled the revelations about her abusive boyfriend, and she seems to have realized that Team Trump reached the "all men and women for themselves" stage pretty long ago. If Hicks does spill her guts, she undoubtedly has some juicy stuff to share, as someone who spent several years as close to Trump as anyone who is not related to him. (Z)

Trump Escalates Feuds with Conway, Ghost of McCain

We have pointed this out once or twice before, but when "Tailgunner Joe" McCarthy was falsely accusing people of harboring Communist sympathies in the 1950s, he chose his targets fairly wisely in the beginning. That is to say, he focused on labor leaders, civil rights activists, college professors, actors, writers, artists—in other words, people likely to be Democrats/liberals. During that phase of McCarthyism, Republicans were happy to aid and abet his efforts or, at very least, to look the other way. It wasn't until he started attacking members of the U.S. Army, most of them Republicans, that the other GOP muckety-mucks put their collective foot down and censured McCarthy.

We note this because as long as Donald Trump attacks Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Beto O'Rourke, or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), he's not taking much of a risk. However, this week, he has decided to engage in feuds with two Republicans, potentially dividing the loyalties of the president's supporters in Washington. The first sparring partner is George Conway, husband of Kellyanne. He's made some pointed comments about Trump's mental health in the past few days, and so of course the President was unable to let that pass. The second of these is former senator John McCain who, since he is deceased, could not have done anything to directly provoke Trump.

There are, of course, Republicans in the Senate who still think fondly about their former colleague. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) never served with McCain, but since the two men were consecutive GOP nominees for president, they had significant interaction with each other. On Tuesday, Romney leapt to McCain's defense (albeit in a typically limp-noodle fashion), and declared that he could not understand why Trump felt the need to go after McCain again. On Wednesday, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) had a considerably sharper rebuke for the President during an interview with Georgia Public Broadcasting:

It's deplorable what he said. That's what I said on the floor of the Senate seven months ago. It will be deplorable seven months from now if he says it again and I will continue to speak out. There aren't Democratic casualties and Republican casualties on the battlefield, there are American casualties. And we should never reduce the service that people give to this country including the offering of their own lives to any political fodder in Washington, D.C., or anywhere else for that matter.

The last time Trump attacked McCain, Isakson pushed back similarly, and said he'd like to give the President a whipping to teach him some manners. The Senator did not specify on Wednesday whether that option is still on the table.

Anyhow, faced with this dissension in the ranks, Trump might have taken his cue, and switched back to his usual targets. Instead, he doubled down. As to Conway, the President slammed him as the "husband from hell," and implied that he's jealous of his wife and is trying to undermine her. This kind of forced Kellyanne to take sides, and she chose...Trump, saying that he was perfectly right to respond angrily to criticism from someone who doesn't know what he's talking about. One imagines things were a tad chilly when she got home from work on Wednesday.

Trump also renewed his assault on McCain and his family, and in a manner that, quite frankly, is about as petty as one could possibly imagine. During an address to workers at a tank factory in Ohio, the President laid into the McCains for nearly five minutes. The highlight (lowlight?) was this portion:

I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which as president I had to approve. I don't care about this, I didn't get a thank you. That's OK. We sent him on the way, but I wasn't a fan of John McCain.

Trump didn't actually "approve" the funeral, he approved the use of Air Force Two to transport the Senator's body. In any event, he might be the only person in the United States who has observed a funeral and had his main thoughts be about why the grieving family didn't showering him with the thanks he deserves. And, in total, this makes four of the last five days that Trump has taken potshots at McCain.

The President's staffers are a bit mystified as to why Trump keeps going back to this particular well, which seems so counterproductive, and forces his loyalists to choose sides. They actually shouldn't be all that mystified; Trump hates when people question his mental stability, as Conway did, and he is also very upset about recent developments in the Mueller investigation, and blames McCain for starting it all by giving the Steele dossier to the FBI. That's not an especially accurate or fair assessment, but accuracy and fairness are not exactly Trump's calling cards, so there it is. (Z)

"Mick the Knife" about to Lose "Acting" Tag

At the moment, Mick Mulvaney is Donald Trump's acting chief of staff. However, the President does not wish to go through the process of finding a replacement, particularly since that might result in some embarrassing and high-profile rejections, as happened last time. Meanwhile, contrary to past reporting, Mulvaney apparently desires the job and campaigned to get it. So, barring a change of heart from the admittedly mercurial Trump, Mulvaney will soon be made the permanent chief of staff.

Mulvaney appears to have learned some lessons from the failures of his predecessors John Kelly and Reince Priebus. In fact, there appear to be three secrets of his success: (1) Salting the White House with a half-dozen loyalists; (2) Staying in the good graces of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump; and (3) Largely staying out of the President's way. With the caveat that the Donald sometimes turns against people very quickly, it nonetheless looks like Mulvaney is in a position to survive through the election next year. (Z)

Germans Not Enthused about Trump's Ambassador

While Mick Mulvaney appears to be settling into his new posting, the same is not so true of Richard Grenell, who is currently serving as the Trump administration's ambassador to Germany. His background is more in PR than in diplomacy, and it shows, as he has felt free to proselytize the gospel of Trump in the German press. That includes consistent attacks on the German government and the Merkel administration, particularly for not doing enough to bear the costs of running NATO.

The Germans, needless to say, are not pleased, and some of their responses have been...somewhat less than diplomatic. Carsten Schneider, a prominent member of the Social Democratic party, which is part of the current ruling coalition, called Grenell a "brat" and a "total diplomatic failure." The rabble-rousing Wolfgang Kubicki, a member of the Free Democrats, one of the opposition parties, declared that, "Any U.S. diplomat who acts like a high commissioner of an occupying power must learn that our tolerance also knows its limits," and called for Grenell to be expelled. Michael Grosse-Brömer, a high-ranking member of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party, sniffed that Germany was doing more than enough to fulfill its obligations to NATO. In short, opposition to the Ambassador has unified Germans across the political spectrum.

There are two main takeaways from this story. The first is that it is exceedingly inappropriate for an ambassador to engage in this sort of politicking, which will necessarily make Grenell ineffective in his job for however long he remains in the post. How, after all, can the Germans deal with him in good faith if they think he's just a hatchet man for the administration? The second is that it reminds us of how much Trump is damaging the relationship between the U.S. and its strongest allies. He, of course, does not see that as a problem. In fact, he sees that as a feature of his foreign policy and not a bug. History suggests Trump is wrong about that, and future events are likely to second that assessment. (Z)

Sanders Criticized for New Hire

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) prefers to write every word of his speeches himself. However, that involves a time commitment that is inconsistent with running a serious campaign for president. And so, he was persuaded to hire someone to handle (some) of the speechwriting duties. That person is David Sirota, who was until recently a writer for The Guardian (UK).

"So, what's the problem here?" you might ask. Well, Sirota has been a pretty zealous advocate for Sanders in his newspaper column, and his Twitter account, and his Facebook page. Actually, "zealous advocate" is not quite right; it's more like "attack dog." The Senator's supporters earned something of a reputation in 2016 for the vitriol they aimed at non-Sanders Democrats (and at Republicans, of course), and Sirota continued that tradition with gusto up to the day of his hiring. Such behavior is rather at odds with the declaration that Sanders made in his campaign announcement e-mail:

[We must] do our very best to engage respectfully with our Democratic opponents—talking about the issues we are fighting for, not about personalities or past grievances. I want to be clear that I condemn bullying and harassment of any kind and in any space.

Consequently, some folks are finding it hard to reconcile that with Sirota's hiring.

In addition, there are questions about exactly how long Sirota was working for the campaign unofficially before he became a paid employee. Some campaign insiders say it was a month or so, others say it was more like four months. Either way, Sirota was producing content for some period of time that was presented as the work of a third-party outsider, but was actually the work of a campaign insider. That's somewhat unethical. And heightening the intensity of the unpleasant odor emanating from all of this is that Sirota scrubbed 20,000 tweets from his Twitter account within just hours. Asked about that, he claimed that it was an automated process that cleans up his account from time to time, and it is a coincidence that it happened to run on the day of his hiring. An automated process that runs once every five years? Dubious. Clearly, Sirota felt he had something to hide, and then he lied on top of that. Not a good look for him or for the candidate.

At the very least, this story illustrates something that we've said a number of times: When you're the frontrunner, instead of the scrappy little David taking on Goliath, the target on your back grows much bigger. At worst, it suggests that Sanders has concluded you cannot run a serious presidential campaign without making a few compromises in the areas of ethics and integrity. (Z)

Thursday Q&A

Lots of attention already being directed toward next year's election, which is excellent.

I see a parallel between Beto and Gary Hart. They're both young, charismatic guys who are seen as a potential "savior" for the party, but they're also thin on actual accomplishments, and offer great-sounding platitudes which don't really say much (Hart's "New Ideas," and the Texas state Democratic chairperson offering up that the best that Beto has done is he's "positive"). Additionally, I can also see both John Edwards and Marco Rubio, at varying times, fitting the "young, charismatic, potential party 'savior'" role, but who also flamed out, like Hart. Could you comment on this, or on any other parallels for Beto (or any of the other candidates)? P.M., Currituck, NC

You're not wrong; there is much the two men have in common. And even though (Z) was only 9 when it happened, even he was aware of Walter Mondale's epic takedown of Hart during the Democratic debates ("Where's the beef?"). Maybe O'Rourke will be similarly derailed if he doesn't develop a substantive platform very soon.

That said, using the past to predict the future is always a tricky business, because it's hard to be certain which clues are the correct ones. What if we pointed out that he's a forty-something centrist Southerner who may have a few skeletons in his closet, but is fantastic on television, gets a lot of mileage out of his ability to play a musical instrument, and is seen as an "honorary" person of color? In other words, maybe he's the next...Bill Clinton.

Or, we could observe that O'Rourke had enormous success in a state where his party is in the minority, and that he's successfully built a movement almost entirely around his magnetic personality, despite limited political experience and very little discussion of substantive issues. In other words, maybe he's the next...Ronald Reagan.

How about noting that O'Rourke was a little directionless as a young man, but he eventually settled down, graduated from Columbia University, raised a family and started a successful career, and then became nationally famous after just a few scant years serving in legislative offices, with no executive experience whatsoever. In other words, maybe he's the next...Barack Obama.

Similarly, we could say that O'Rourke is a folksy Texan who came from nowhere to assume a place of national prominence in politics, and that he's attracting a lot of support from both sides of the aisle, particularly from people who are tired of politics as usual and think that he might be just the person to shake things up. In other words, maybe he's the next...Ross Perot.

The upshot is that O'Rourke has some very obvious strengths and some very clear weaknesses. When you add in the fact that voters in 2020 might be looking for something different from what they were looking for in 2012 or 1992 or 1984, which could mean that maybe none of those elections are instructive, it's very difficult to foresee what the future holds for him.

Recently you wrote, "We may be closer to an invocation of the 25th amendment than anyone thinks." I thought all that was required to refute this is a letter from the President stating that yes, in fact, he can do his job. Then, the same amount of votes as needed for impeachment would be required from Congress. How does that evolve the situation at all if President Trump can still write a letter? M.K., Shamong, NJ

It is true that sustaining a 25th Amendment removal would require the same number of votes in the GOP-controlled Senate as an impeachment (and more in the House, since they can impeach with a straight majority). However, if the President's cabinet turned against him in such a dramatic way, it would give cover to senators and representatives who thought it best to vote against him. It would also put them in the position, if they were to vote in favor of Trump, of being accused of a willingness to put the nation's well-being (and its nuclear codes) in the hands of a man who was very possibly incompetent. In other words, we think it is more likely that the votes would be there to sustain a removal via 25th Amendment than a removal via impeachment and conviction.

Is it possible a future Congress could invoke the plain text of the 2nd Amendment to regulate firearms in the U.S.? For example, could they point out that the text reads: "Whereas the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution addresses the context of a well-regulated militia..." and then predicate gun ownership on honorable service in a branch of the U.S. military? Regardless of the political viability of that approach, would it stand up to legal review? Is there a constitutional or legal precedent that would prevent or prohibit such an approach to gun regulation in the U.S.? R.K., Denver, CO

There has been a fair bit of jurisprudence in this area, but the case most relevant to your question is District of Columbia v. Heller, which was decided by a 5-4 vote just over a decade ago. Writing for the majority, alleged "originalist" Antonin Scalia declared that when the folks back in 1790 legislated that guns are for "well-regulated militias," what they actually meant was that guns are for everyone. So, an attempt to restrict firearms on that basis would run afoul of Heller, unless a new case comes along that supersedes this one. Not likely with the current SCOTUS, of course.

That said, the Heller ruling also noted that the right to own guns is not absolute, and that Congress is allowed to impose some limits on gun ownership. So while a pretty radical redefinition of gun rights, like the one you propose, would not fly, something more limited probably would pass muster with the courts.

Hillary Clinton lost Wisconsin and Michigan by small margins. And one of the explanations for her loss was that she didn't visit them enough at the end. But how much difference do these visits really make? Does one visit by the candidate in, say, the Detroit area in Southeast Michigan really mobilize fence sitters in the rest of the state? What are the actual benefits of a candidate visit on the campaign trail? J.P., Cleveland, OH

You are right that one visit by the candidate is not likely to move the needle much. However, if Team Clinton had realized how much trouble they were in, there are actually lots of things they could have done. Hillary could have made a point of talking a bunch more about issues that matter to those states. The campaign could have sent surrogates, like Barack Obama and Joe Biden, to campaign on her behalf. They could have increased their investment in TV ads and robocalls. They could have amped up their get out the vote operations.

It is virtually impossible to tease out the impact of any one of these things, but it is very possible that the Clinton campaign could have saved one or more of the Obama states they lost, had they known the true situation in those places.

What happens to unused campaign finance money? For example, Beto O'Rourke raised over $80M for his Senate campaign, and almost certainly didn't use all of it—he didn't hire much staff, didn't run that many TV ads, etc. Are there rules about what happens to the leftover money? I'm doubly curious because, within hours after he announced, my friends and I got donation requests from his campaign (no wonder he raised over $6M in the first 24 hours!). E.K.H., San Antonio, TX

In theory—promise not to laugh—they could refund the money to donors. That never happens, of course.

Generally speaking, candidates have a number of options for what to do with the extra funds. They can use it for future campaigns, give it to their political party or to other candidates for office, send it to a PAC, or donate it to charity. While they cannot keep it for their personal use, it's not too hard for shady operators to use a PAC to funnel the money back to their own wallets. For example, former senator Russ Feingold donated leftover money to a PAC that then spent most of the cash purchasing copies of his book.

As to O'Rourke, he did have leftovers, and he sent at least some of that to the Texas Democratic Party. There have been whispers that his impressive first-day fundraising haul was achieved, in part, by clever rerouting of money from his Senate campaign to his presidential campaign. We'll find out more when he files his FEC paperwork for Q1.

In Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-NY) Twitter appeals and Facebook posts, she claims she was crucified over her takedown of then-Sen. Al Franken, says that she was "taking a risk" in leading the pitchfork brigade against him, and claims that "Democratic megadonors are blacklisting" her over Franken. Do you think this is true, or is it just that she has no chance anyway and they are investing elsewhere? B.H., Westborough, MA

Let us start by saying that sexism, the old boys club, and gender discrimination are all alive and well in the United States, and so it's certainly possible that what the Senator says is true.

However, we doubt it. The megadonors aren't really getting their checkbooks out for anyone at this point, as it is so early in the contest. And even if they are, they tend to give to winners, or likely winners. Sending big bucks to someone polling at roughly 1% just isn't a great investment. So, the likeliest explanation is that Gillibrand is having trouble raising money due to her (currently) anemic polling numbers, and that she's decided to turn lemons into lemonade with a more impactful theory of causation.

Looking at the increasingly crowded Democratic field, I was wondering whether the following approach might be a way to maximize the chances to unite at least most of the center-left electorate and therefore have a great shot at winning the White House (and maximize turnout to help in down-ballot races): Joe Biden teams up with another, younger candidate who appeals to an demographic with which he might have trouble to connect, e.g. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). He runs for president, she for VP. From the outset, he publicly pledges not to run for a second term and instead to support her run for the top job four years later. She gets an active role in governing so that she can promote her priorities and build up her profile. The advantages? Blue collar white men have Biden to vote for, voters who prefer a woman and/or a younger candidate have a promise to have their candidate in four years (and already in an active VP role from the beginning). Biden can use his four years as president to the maximum without having to spend most of the second half of his term on the campaign trail. Likewise, Harris can more easily focus on the "reelection" campaign. Of course, the combination could work with other names, e.g. Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)/Beto O'Rourke. I would very much like to hear your thoughts on this idea, even though I am aware that it's purely theoretical. M.K., Munich, Germany

We have to say, there's a lot of merit in your proposal, from where we sit. There have been presidents in the past who pledged to serve one term, like James K. Polk, but that was a response to voters' concerns that eight years' service breeds corruption or stagnation or both. It's never really been promised because of the candidates' advanced age, but it's also never been the case that a party had multiple first-tier candidates who were pushing 80. An arrangement like this would serve to lessen the age issue while maybe also bridging the divide between the wings of the Democratic Party. It could also lay the groundwork for just the second 12-year White House run for one party since FDR and Truman (with Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush being the first). Beyond the opportunities for efficient campaigning that you note, voters are probably more likely to "throw the bums out" after 8 years if it is a new bum trying to capture the White House, as opposed to the same bum who is running for reelection.

We're likely to see at least 15 established and reasonably well-funded candidates make it to Iowa and New Hampshire. Between today's "Wild West" campaign finance laws and the ease of raising money online, and the Democrats' proportionally allocated delegates, it may be hard for the frontrunner to pick up the delegates needed to secure the nomination during primary season. So, in your view, is there a high chance of a brokered convention for Democrats? What processes would determine who wins the nomination? How much damage could this potentially do to the blue team in November, 2020, if the nominee is determined in a "smoke-filled back room"? P.S., Marion, IA

Is there a chance? Certainly. But we would not call it a "high" chance, by any means. There have been many large fields of candidates in the last 60 years (i.e., the era in which primaries and caucuses choose the candidates), and there has been much breathless talk about a brokered convention, but it never comes to pass. Again, that's not to say it couldn't, but you have to stick with the dominant trendline until given solid evidence to the contrary.

If there was a brokered convention, it really wouldn't be a smoke-filled room kind of thing. That is a bygone artifact of a past era, like manual typewriters, steam-powered ships, telegrams, and Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl championships. At most, there might be a little horse trading, to get trailing candidates to release their delegates to leading candidates. However, even that might not be necessary. Different states have different rules, but as the nominating ballots were conducted, more and more state delegations would become "free agents," allowed to vote for whomever they wanted. Once the fifth ballot was over, pretty much everyone would be a free agent. And, at that point, the delegates might figure it out for themselves.

And we do not believe a brokered convention, if it did come to pass, would automatically do the blue team harm. A brokered convention would certainly be a symptom of disunity, which is not good, but it would not necessarily be a cause. In fact, it's at least possible that a brokered convention could actually serve to heal certain wounds. Recall that with Bernie Sanders, the complaint was that he didn't get a fair shake, and that his fate was decided by the DNC pooh-bahs long before the convention. If, on the other hand, the unsuccessful candidates at least got a hearing at the convention before losing out, it might just bring the party together.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Mar20 Politicians vs. Tech, Part II: The Republicans
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Mar18 Sanders Bashes Trump
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Mar18 Monday Q&A
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