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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Barr Snipes at Mueller at Senate Hearing
      •  Takeaways from Barr's Appearance
      •  Biden Is Skipping the Primaries
      •  The Democratic Party Is Not What It Used to Be
      •  Trump's Tweets May Be Hurting Him
      •  Which Team Is Putin On?
      •  Trump Won Iowa Due to Xenophobia
      •  Moderate Democrats Have a Better Track Record than Progressives
      •  Does the Party Decide?
      •  Cory Gardner Is in Trouble

Barr Snipes at Mueller at Senate Hearing

Attorney General William Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday and carried so much water for Donald Trump that it is amazing he didn't drown. While he didn't use the phrase "witch hunt," he repeatedly said he didn't understand why special counsel Robert Mueller investigated Trump for obstruction if he didn't find any collusion. When asked why he didn't immediately release the summaries Mueller had written for the public, even after Mueller twice wrote to him to ask him to do so, Barr said the letters were "snitty." He also said that if Mueller had found enough evidence that Trump obstructed justice, he would have said so. When asked about Mueller's comment that the investigation did not exonerate Trump, Barr said that the Justice Dept. was not in the business of exonerating. When asked about alleged spying on Trump, he refused to back off the position that it's a valid issue that needs to be looked into.

In short, Barr did everything he could to act like Trump's personal defense attorney, rather than the Attorney General of the United States, while also throwing his (former?) friend and colleague Mueller under the bus. And the special counsel is not the only one who got that treatment. At one point or another, Barr also managed to squeeze in "snitty" remarks about the following: the prosecutors on Mueller's team, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, the FBI, the intelligence community at large, the Obama administration, the (pre-Barr) Justice Dept., the New York Times, and the media in general. You're to be forgiven if you think that sounds an awful lot like Donald Trump's enemies list. It's almost surprising that Barr did not accidentally slip into a chant of "Lock her up! Lock her up!"

Under the circumstances, the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee were none too happy. They said that Barr was trying to mislead them and spin the report to help Trump. They also questioned his independence. Under the circumstances, these are all reasonable concerns. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) was particularly harsh. She called him a liar, said he should resign, and declared: "Mr. Barr, now the American people know that you are no different from Rudy Giuliani or Kellyanne Conway or any of the other people who sacrificed their once decent reputation for the grifter and liar who sits in the Oval Office." At least half a dozen of the Democrats who are running for president right now echoed the Senator's demand that Barr resign. He will be ignoring that advice, of course.

The other thing that Barr is going to ignore is the House Judiciary Committee, which he was scheduled to speak to today. He said he would not agree to the appearance unless he was allowed to dictate the format. Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) shot back that the committee chooses the format, not the witness. So, late yesterday, Barr told Nadler to take his committee and shove it. This will lead Nadler to issue a subpoena, which Barr is almost certain to defy. That's a federal crime, and will go to the courts almost immediately. And if ever there was a time that the Democratic members might be tempted to send the Sergeant-at-Arms to make an arrest and to toss a person in contempt in the slammer, this is surely it. If they tried it, Donald Trump would surely go nuclear. Figuratively, and maybe even literally.

Whether, or how long, Barr's stall tactics work, the tide is still working against him and Trump. Former FBI director James Comey continues to act like a fly in the ointment; he published an op-ed on Wednesday that slammed Barr and pointed out that he's just the latest person to be co-opted by Trump. Robert Mueller isn't the type to write op-eds, but he's definitely going to appear before Congress to share his insights. The only issue is working out a date, though it may be as soon as sometime this month. And in a very interesting development, the #1 book on this week's New York Times bestseller list is...the Mueller report. That's despite the fact that it can be downloaded for free by anyone with an Internet connection.

In short, then, Barr appears to have sold his soul to the Donald, and for fairly little benefit to either of them. At least Faust got unlimited knowledge when he sold his (there were no iPads in those days). Barr has not only failed to save Trump in any meaningful way, he's actually helped to make himself and the president look more guilty, and to inspire other folks (like Mueller) to speak up considerably more forcefully than they might otherwise have done. (Z & V)

Takeaways from Barr's Appearance

William Barr's first (and maybe only) appearance before Congress after the release of the Mueller report was big news. Plus, it happened early in the day. That adds up to lots and lots of "takeaways" pieces. Here is a selection:

  • Lindsey Graham shows his pro-Trump colors
  • Barr tries to (re)explain what he was doing with four-page letter
  • Barr blames the media for Mueller's reaction to his letter
  • The difference between "firing" and "removal for conflict"
  • Barr has "questions" about the origins of the FBI counterintelligence probe
  • Barr won't be apologizing for saying "spying"
  • Try to follow Barr's logic on the Mueller letter
  • Barr made clear he did not "exonerate" Trump on obstruction
  • Barr equivocates on White House influence
  • Mueller's letter added a twist to Barr's hearing
  • Barr went out of his way to defend the president's actions
  • Republicans wanted to talk about FBI overreach. Barr obliged.
  • Everyone agreed Russia interfered in the 2016 election, but not on what to do about it
  • Barr's testimony made it clear we need to hear from Mueller
ABC News:
  • Despite questions about his impartiality from Democrats, Barr maintained a posture defending President Donald Trump
  • Mueller didn't intend report as roadmap for Congress, according to Barr: 'That would be very inappropriate'
  • Tensions between Barr and Mueller
  • Barr had no interest in releasing summaries, despite Mueller's requests
  • Furor over Mueller complaint is 'mind-bendingly bizarre,' Barr argued
  • Democrats call Barr's credibility into question as Republicans turn attention back to Hillary Clinton
  • Graham punts to the House, won't call Mueller to testify: "Enough already!"
The Washington Post:
  • Barr is unrepentant--and still presenting things favorable to Trump
  • 'I didn't exonerate' Trump
  • His allegedly misleading previous testimony
  • A rift with Mueller?
  • Graham's misleading preamble
  • Barr is better at this than Senate Democrats
Washington Examiner:
  • Tension between Attorney General William Barr and Robert Mueller
  • Barr didn't review Mueller's evidence
  • Barr is probing leaks to media
  • Barr is examining the justification for surveillance warrants into Trump campaign
  • Senate Judiciary (probably) won't call Mueller to testify
The Guardian (UK):
  • William Barr: Trump's lead defense counsel
  • Barr's veracity questioned
  • Democrats on the warpath
  • Standout performance (1): Lindsey Graham
  • Standout performance (2): Kamala Harris

The recurring themes: Barr is doing a pretty effective job of slowing this process down, Barr is in the bag for Donald Trump (as is Lindsey Graham, though his voters will be pleased about that), and it's definitely Mueller time. (Z)

Biden Is Skipping the Primaries

Well, not literally, since he can't, but he is campaigning as though he were already the Democratic nominee. Axios summed up the story with this photo (montage):

Biden on donkey

In short, Biden's announcement video was mostly an attack on Donald Trump. Everything else he has done since then is focused on how he is the best candidate to take down Trump. He is betting that the thing Democratic primary voters care most about is a regime change in D.C. The bumper sticker writes itself: "Dump Trump. Vote Biden." Sooner or later each Democrat is going to become identified with one, or maybe two, ideas. For example: Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) (the environment), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (income inequality), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) (Republicans are corrupt), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (stop sexual assault), Beto O'Rourke (I'm awesome), Mike Gravel (get off my lawn), and so on. If Biden becomes the candidate of "I can beat Trump," that might just do the job, without any major policy proposals.

In addition to pushing himself as the person to beat Trump, Biden is doing something else that the others aren't doing: taking in money from big Democratic donors. To many Democrats, that is anathema, but tens of millions of dollars of television and digital advertising might be able to change "anathema" to "resignation."

Donald Trump is foolishly helping Biden with his strategy. Yesterday he retweeted over 60 anti-Biden tweets. The effect of his directly attacking Biden and ignoring the rest of the Democratic field is to prime public opinion for the mindset that the primaries are over and it is all about Trump vs. Biden. Biden, of course, is very happy with this framing and his "inevitability." Sanders, Warren, and more than a dozen Democrats are less happy about this. The weird (actually, stupid) thing about this is that Trump is effectively promoting his strongest opponent. If he were to direct all his fire at say, Pete Buttigieg, and get him the nomination, he could then run a campaign saying Buttigieg is wet behind the ears and has no gravitas. Picking on the one guy he is actually most afraid of—and thus putting him in the news every day—is not a smart campaign move, but Trump just lashes out without thinking of the consequences down the road. (V)

The Democratic Party Is Not What It Used to Be

Joe Biden is currently leading most 2020 presidential polls. So far, he hasn't said what he is for, although it is crystal clear what he is against: Donald Trump. Sooner or later we will presumably find out what he is for, but he may turn out to be an anachronism in the modern Democratic Party, which has changed enormously since Biden first ran for the Senate in 1972. Consider what Democrats think now on some issues compared to what Democrats thought in 1972:

Share of Democrats who ... 1972 2019
Say marijuana should be illegal 79% 22%
Say same-sex sexual relations are almost always wrong 78% 28%
Are white with no college degree 74% 31%
Identify as moderate or conservative 63% 47%
Are white moderates or conservatives without a college degree 50% 13%
Own a gun 45% 24%
Say men are better suited to politics than women 41% 8%
Say whites have a right to segregate neighborhoods 40% -
Say they oppose interracial marriage 38% -

Some of the changes are striking, especially the drop of noncollege whites from 74% to 31%. Many pundits have said that Biden's strength is that he can talk to noncollege whites. That may be true, but the flip side of the coin is whether he can talk to everyone else, and "everyone else" is the majority of the Democratic Party now.

Put in other words, Biden isn't the only moderate running. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is also a moderate, but Booker didn't grow up in an era when well over a third of Democrats believed in segregation and opposed interracial marriages. So if Democrats decide they want to play it safe and nominate a moderate, the big question is whether Biden really understands how much politics has changed since he first ran for office. We may soon find out. (V)

Trump's Tweets May Be Hurting Him

Donald Trump's initial decision to bypass the media filter and talk directly to the voters 140 (and later 280) characters at a time, without nasty reporters constantly pointing out that he was lying was brilliant. With 60 million followers (many of which may be Russian bots), he could get his message out without interference.

But enough is enough. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. If you don't believe it, try eating a gallon of your favorite ice cream all at once (or, if you are metrically inclined, 4 liters will make the point even better). A new Politico/Morning Consult poll shows that 60% of voters say Trump's use of Twitter is a bad thing, vs. only 19% who say it is a good thing. Even worse, 46% think it will hurt his reelection chances, which is more than double the number who see it as an asset. In addition, 48% think his tweets hurt America's standing in the world, vs. 13% who say they help. Even Republicans are starting to say "whoa!," with 51% of them saying he tweets too much.

On the other hand, 46% say his tweets hurt the news media while only 20% say it helps the media. Trump, being Trump, is undoubtedly willing to absorb the hit if it hurts his enemy (the media), so don't expect any changes in his tweeting behavior any time soon.

Speaking of polls, though, a new CNN poll released yesterday, done entirely after the Mueller report was released, has Trump's approval at 43%, his best showing since April 2017. His disapproval is at 52%. The poll also shows that 44% say Democrats are doing too much investigating of him. Don't expect one poll to stop them, though. Or fifty, for that matter. (V)

Which Team Is Putin On?

Russian President Vladimir Putin did a bang-up job of interfering in the 2016 presidential election, and there is no reason to think he has made his point that he can do it and so he will just sit on the sidelines in 2020. In other words, count on him being a player next time. Only it is not clear which team he will be on in 2020. While Trump talks like Putin's lapdog, his acts have been less friendly. Among other things, Trump has pushed for additional sanctions on Russia, sold arms to Ukraine, expelled Russian diplomats, and allowed liquified natural gas exports to Europe, thus reducing European reliance on Russia. Most Americans may not be aware of these things, but rest assured, Putin most definitely is.

It is also worth noting that Putin interfered in the 2016 election for two reasons:

  • To sow discord and weaken American democracy
  • To hurt Hillary Clinton, whom he bitterly hates, and who would be a huge problem for him had she won

Given that Trump hasn't delivered any goodies and Clinton won't be on the ballot in 2020, Putin might just decide that in 2020, he should go full nonpartisan and only attempt to pull off the first goal, without taking sides. That could especially be the case if the Democrats nominate Joe Biden, who opposed the U.S. missile defense system and promoted normal trade relations with Russia even after Putin invaded Georgia (the country, not the state). Also, if Bernie Sanders gets the nomination, Putin is surely aware that he is a Democratic Socialist and honeymooned in the former Soviet Union. So he's not exactly a rock-ribbed Commie-hater. As a consequence, it is entirely possible that Putin will focus on setting American against American in 2020, without trying to help either the blue team or the red team.

Something else to think about is what China will do. China has plenty of hackers as well, and President Xi Jinping surely hates Trump with a passion on account of the tariffs and Trump's general antagonism to China. Xi is probably less interested in sowing discord than Putin; his concern is getting a president who won't rock the trade boat, so it is certainly possible now that Putin has shown the way, Xi will instruct his hackers to help the Democrats. (V)

Trump Won Iowa Due to Xenophobia

Millions of blue-collar voters switched from the Democrats to Donald Trump in 2016. A large study a year ago concluded it was due to xenophobia and sexism, not economic anxiety. Now, a detailed new study of Iowa comes to essentially the same conclusion: Blue-collar voters in Iowa voted their prejudices, not their economic fears. Three professors of sociology at Iowa State University have published a detailed analysis of Iowa county-level voting data from the 2016 election and concluded that economic distress was not the driving force that got blue-collar workers to vote for Trump.

The study noted that 31 Iowa counties that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 voted for Donald Trump in 2016. For each county, the researchers noted the percentage change between the two elections and looked for correlations with other factors. These factors included population density, average age, median household income, unemployment, education level, race, and church attendance. What they found was a strong correlation between "whiteness" of a county and probability of flipping to Trump. In contrast, income and unemployment were not predictive of the switch. In other words, a county with a low median income and relatively high unemployment didn't flip unless it was nearly all white.

The study concluded the less educated a county was and the less likely people there had ever encountered a nonwhite person, the more likely they were to be susceptible to Trump's fearmongering. Interestingly enough, religiosity didn't play a role.

Going forward, what can the parties learn from this study? For the Republicans, just continuing to attack immigrants (especially those from sh*thole countries) and nonwhite people, is likely to do the job in 2020 nearly as well as it did in 2016. Democrats have a problem, though. There is no way that opposing Trump's tariffs or proposing broadband Internet in rural areas is going to change the minds of people who are simply voting their prejudices. Of course, if the economy tanks, all bets are off.

Still, Democrats should not abandon three-quarters of the country. What they can do is work much harder to turn out the vote in small- and medium-size cities in red states. Urban dwellers, even in deep red states, often lean toward the Democrats. If turnout among them can be increased, the Democrats have a chance to win the swingy red states, like Iowa and Ohio. States that are almost totally rural, like Wyoming and Idaho, are probably going to vote for Trump in 2020, no matter what the Democrats try. (V)

Moderate Democrats Have a Better Track Record than Progressives

Democratic primary voters over the course of the next 14 months will be wrestling over the question of whether they should nominate a progressive or a moderate Democrat to run for president in 2020. Every election is different and the 2020 one will be very different from any previous one because the incumbent is so unpopular. Nevertheless, Democrats have nominated both moderates and progressives over the years, so we can look at their respective track records. Here are the Democratic nominees since after WW II and the results, with an asterisk indicating a victory.

Year Moderate Progressive
1948 Harry Truman*  
1952   Adlai Stevenson
1956   Adlai Stevenson
1960 John Kennedy*  
1964 Lyndon Johnson*  
1968   Hubert Humphrey
1972   George McGovern
1976 Jimmy Carter*  
1980 Jimmy Carter  
1984   Walter Mondale
1988   Michael Dukakis
1992 Bill Clinton*  
1996 Bill Clinton*  
2000 Al Gore  
2004 John Kerry  
2008 Barack Obama*  
2012 Barack Obama*  
2016 Hillary Clinton  

As you can see, none of the progressive candidates won. Not all the moderates won either, but in 8 out of 12 attempts by a moderate, the candidate was victorious, for a success rate of 67%.

One might argue about whether Kennedy was a moderate or a progressive, but if we look at what he did, it becomes clear. One of his biggest legislative achievements was cutting the top tax rate from 91% to 70% and the corporate rate from 52% to 48%. As a general rule, progressives don't reduce taxes for rich people and corporations. Of course, Kennedy also introduced the Civil Rights Act, which Lyndon Johnson eventually got passed, but 82% of Senate Republicans and 80% of House Republicans voted for it. A bill supported by the vast majority of Republicans in Congress can hardly be called progressive. The country simply realized this was needed.

What do these data say about 2020? Well, historically, moderate Democrats have usually won and progressive Democrats have always lost. Given such a weak incumbent, the Democrats could conceivably win with any candidate, but if they want to play safe, they are probably better off with one of the moderates. On the other hand, if they want to go big, next year could be the right time to try. (V)

Does the Party Decide?

An influential political book, The Party Decides, argues that for over 200 years, insiders have controlled the presidential nominations, primaries or no primaries. One of the ways party leaders try to influence the selection of candidates is by endorsing candidates. The hope is that voters will pay attention, but just as important is that endorsements are signals to other party leaders (and to donors) about whom to support. Of course, not all endorsements are the same. An endorsement from a governor or a senator counts for more than one from a county chairman, which counts more than one from the city dogcatcher. FiveThirtyEight has been keeping score on endorsements and awarding points to each one, depending on how prominent the endorser is. Former presidents and veeps plus current party leaders get 10 points, governors get 8, senators get 6, former presidential and vice presidential nominees, former national leaders, and former 2020 candidates get 5, representatives and mayors get 3, and so on down the totem pole. Using these weightings, they have compiled this scorecard:

Candidate Points
Joe Biden 75
Cory Booker 57
Kamala Harris 55
Amy Klobuchar 39
Elizabeth Warren 23
Bernie Sanders 22
Beto O'Rourke 14
Julian Castro 12
Pete Buttigieg 11
John Delaney 6
Jay Inslee 5
Kirsten Gillibrand 3
John Hickenlooper 3
Eric Swalwell 3

Noteworthy here is that while Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are close together in the polls, party officials have a huge preference for Biden. Also noteworthy is that Pete Buttigieg's rise in the polls is not reflected in his endorsements at all. On the other hand, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) is down in the weeds in the polls, but ranks fourth in the endorsement scorecard. Undoubtedly these discrepancies are due to the fact that the politicians don't regard winning as the best thing. They regard it as the only thing. Many voters, on the other hand, would rather lose with their favorite candidate than win with someone they don't like. Politicians never think like that. (V)

Cory Gardner Is in Trouble

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) has something in common with Joe Biden—both are fine candidates, but for a different era. Gardner is a traditional conservative, something in the style of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT). Unfortunately, he has to run for reelection in 2020 when Donald Trump is on the ballot. Colorado is trending blue and Trump is extremely unpopular there. Furthermore, while Gardner claims to be the fifth-most bipartisan senator, he has voted with Trump on some key bills, such as repealing the ACA, and that will be held against him big time in 2020. Democrats have made him their #1 Senate target next year, although he may have to share that distinction with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

Any politician's vulnerability can be measured by how many candidates have signed up in the other party's primary. The Democrats will be lucky to find anyone willing to run against Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY). Not so with Gardner. Nearly a dozen Democrats have already signed up to run in the Democratic primary, because they believe he is so vulnerable. Some of the main contenders are former state senator Mike Johnston, former state representative Andrew Romanoff, former diplomat Dan Baer, and former U.S. Attorney John Walsh. A few House members are also thinking about going for a promotion. And if John Hickenlooper's presidential campaign goes nowhere, he could jump in and become the immediate favorite.

Gardner's problem is that he is a Republican who is being mangled between Donald Trump and his bluish state. If he keeps Trump at a distance, the state's Republicans, who are more libertarian than Trumpish, won't be pleased. But if he hugs Trump, he won't get a single Democratic vote, and Colorado has more Democrats than Republicans. Democrats are already drawing a parallel between Gardner and now ex-senator Dean Heller, who had the same problem in Nevada in 2018 and went down in flames. Gardner has a tough row to hoe and he probably won't survive. (V)

Programming Note: We're going to push the usual Q&A that would run today to tomorrow, to leave room for any potential Barr questions. But not Bar questions, because we didn't go to law school, and so can't answer those.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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