• Today's Impeachment News
• Trump Hit with $2 Million Judgment
• First Revelations from "Anonymous" Book
• Warren Has a...Calculator for That?
• Steyer Tried to Buy Endorsements
• Could Bevin Steal a Victory from the Jaws of Defeat?
• Time to Start Ignoring Moody's
You probably thought the 2020 Democratic field was set. Not only set, but—in effect—already whittled down to just three or four viable candidates. If you thought that, however, it looks like you were wrong. One of the billionaires who has been teasing a run, Michael Bloomberg, may be serious. His people are in Alabama today, gathering the signatures and filing the paperwork necessary to qualify for the presidential ballot in that state.
This is not a definitive statement that Bloomberg is running, since Alabama has the earliest cutoff date (today), as well as a very low bar for presidential candidates to clear (just 500 signatures). But it is certainly a definitive statement that he's keeping the door open. Presumably, Bloomberg will also get the 5,000 signatures and the paperwork needed to qualify for the ballot in Arkansas by that state's deadline on Tuesday. Then, he'll have a few weeks to think about things before some pretty major states' deadlines arrive; Illinois' on December 2, California's on December 6, and Texas' on December 9. If the former New York Mayor goes to the time and expense of qualifying in those three states, where the bar for getting on the ballot is considerably higher, then he's surely "in."
Bloomberg himself has not commented on Thursday's news, but people around him say his thinking is shaped by a couple of things. The first is that this is his last (potential) rodeo. At 77 years old right now (and 79 years old about two weeks after Inauguration Day, 2021), it's now or never if he wants to take a shot at the White House. Beyond that, he feels that Donald Trump must be defeated at all costs, and he's lost some confidence in the ability of the Democratic field to get that done. Inasmuch as Bloomberg initially declined to run shortly after Joe Biden entered the race, the former Mayor's assessment of "the field's" chances is his way of saying that Biden is a weaker candidate than he first thought.
There has been virtually no polling of how Democratic voters feel about Bloomberg; when the field has 10-20 candidates, there's hardly time to ask about anyone else. However, Bloomberg is a data guy, and has undoubtedly commissioned his own polls. So, if he gets in, it tells us he has reason to believe he will be viable. If that does come to pass, it is Biden who will be hurt the most. Bloomberg is a centrist—in fact, used to be a Republican—and would be competing for the same voters that Biden is after. Further, Bloomberg has a cleaner and simpler record of achievement than Biden does. The former VP has accomplished things, of course, but they aren't as easy to reduce to a sound bite as "I successfully ran America's largest city for a decade." Perhaps most importantly, Biden is having some cashflow problems, whereas Bloomberg can fund his entire campaign by himself and not even miss the money. Hillary Clinton's campaign spent a total of $768 million in 2016. If we round that up to $800 million, to account for inflation, then Bloomberg has enough money to fund roughly 66 presidential campaigns.
This is not to say that Bloomberg does not have his weaknesses. He actually ran New York as an independent, not a Democrat, and only rejoined the Party in 2018. That makes him something of a political carpetbagger. Further, he's taken some positions that are definitely not in sync with the modern Democratic base, like his criticism of #MeToo, his advocacy for the war on drugs, and his general dislike for raising taxes on the rich. Hard to pay for things like Medicare for All, or the Green New Deal, without more taxes on the rich.
Bloomberg is a very data-driven guy. Surely he has done a lot of polling on the race. He must know that if Biden stays in, no matter how weak he is, the centrist vote will be split two ways, thus increasing the chances that one of the progressive candidates gets the nomination. But billionaires always seem to have egos the size of their bank accounts. If Bloomberg's goal were simply to defeat Trump, he would just announce that he is setting up a super PAC to support the eventual Democratic nominee and fund it with $100 million. Of course, the problem with that approach is that the nominee might be Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who wants to tax people like him, and that's a bridge too far for him.
For those who would like to know more about Bloomberg, our profile of him is here. (Z)
Thursday was another day with a lot of small-to-medium-news on the Ukrainekey Ring front, as opposed to one big story.
To start, CNN host Fareed Zakaria revealed on Thursday that he had scheduled an interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and that Zelensky was prepared to announce the beginning of the investigations that Donald Trump wanted. The whole thing fell apart when the public learned of the whole situation, and the White House was forced to release the funds it was withholding. Still, the fact that Zelensky was ready to perform his "duty" makes it even clearer that the extortion attempt was real, and that everyone involved took it seriously.
Meanwhile, the White House is finally getting serious about the fact that this whole situation is, well, serious, and has selected two folks to manage the administration's messaging on impeachment: Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Treasury Department spokesman Tony Salegh. Bondi is remembered as the person who stopped an investigation into Trump after getting a generous donation from his "charity," (see below), so she seems a curious choice for the job of convincing the world that Trump is not corrupt. Maybe nobody else was willing to take the job, though.
The administration also received some important communications on Thursday. To start, the whistleblower's attorney Andrew Bakaj sent a cease-and-desist letter to the White House, telling them to stop attacking or otherwise trying to unmask his client. "I am writing to respectfully request that you counsel your client on the legal and ethical peril in which he is placing himself should anyone be physically harmed as a result of his, or his surrogates', behavior," the letter reads, in part. There is little doubt that Trump will ignore this helpful advice; it's not clear what Bakaj will do at that point, but undoubtedly he's got something planned.
In addition to the cease-and-desist, "Acting" Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was officially subpoenaed by House Democrats, and ordered to report for questioning today. Mulvaney has already told Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) & Co. to shove it, so he definitely won't be on the Hill today. Exactly what Schiff is doing here, since he's apparently not willing to wait for a judge to enforce the subpoenas, is not known to anyone but the Representative and his team. However, the likeliest possibility is that he is collecting evidence that Trump is interfering with the investigation, and thus is guilty of obstruction of justice.
So, that's the latest. One can only imagine how much deeper the hole that Trump is in will be by this time next week. (Z)
It is well known, at this point, that Donald Trump's "charity" was not so much a charity as it was a personal piggy bank. Virtually none of the money it had actually came from the Trumps, and virtually all of the money it spent was for the benefit of the Trumps. Who can forget, for example, the six-foot-tall, $20,000 portrait of Trump that the charity purchased?
On Thursday, this chapter of the Trump saga came to an end, as Judge Saliann Scarpulla ordered the President to pay $2 million to a selection of non-profit groups, to make up for all the money he pocketed. This also covers any malfeasance by members of his family. Trump was furious, of course, and lashed out at the "political hacks in New York." Any other president would do anything possible to deflect attention from the fact that he effectively stole money from starving children, battered women, and the like. For Trump, however, this barely breaks the Top 20 list of most scandalous things he's done. (Z)
The book written by the same senior member of the Trump administration who authored the famous "Resistance" op-ed in the New York Times is coming out on Nov. 19. That means that various media outlets, starting with the Washington Post, have got their copies, and have begun to reveal the contents therein.
It is, as you can imagine, less than flattering. Here's the quote that's getting the most attention:
It's like showing up at the nursing home at daybreak to find your elderly uncle running pantsless across the courtyard and cursing loudly about the cafeteria food, as worried attendants tried to catch him. You're stunned, amused, and embarrassed all at the same time. Only your uncle probably wouldn't do it every single day, his words aren't broadcast to the public, and he doesn't have to lead the US government once he puts his pants on.
The author also says that his original op-ed was in error, and that the bureaucrats are not reining Trump in, because that's just not possible. He also reveals that the senior members of the administration very nearly staged a mass-resignation, a "midnight self-massacre," but called it off because someone needs to keep the government running. There are lots of other revelations, like that the President regularly engages in leering at women staffers that would get literally any other man in America fired.
The book does not generally reconstruct specific events, as the author does not want to give too many clues as to his or her identity. He or she writes that they may out themselves at some future date; it will be fascinating to learn who it is, if we ever do. If they make the big reveal during the height of the campaign season, that could certain be an interesting "October Surprise." (Z)
Earlier this week, tech tycoon Bill Gates was asked about Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax, and he was less-than-enthused, observing that he's already paid a lot of taxes, and he didn't really understand how much more he would have to pay. $10 billion (on top of the $10 billion he's already paid) might be ok, but what if it's $100 billion?
Warren's campaign has now responded to this, adding a wealth tax calculator to her site. If Gates wants to know how big a hit he'll take, there's actually a link there just for him. Alternatively, he can plug his net worth ($107 billion) in manually, and he'll get this response:
Since Gates has already signed off on paying $10 billion more, it would seem that all is copacetic. Or maybe not. Warren is being a bit sneaky here. Gates is presumably willing to pay another $10 billion total whereas Warren's tax would hit him for $6.4 billion each year. Actually, it would be slightly less, since as his fortune was taxed away, the tax would decrease each year. Still the total over 30 years would eat up most of it. Gates is probably unnecessarily worried though. The Supreme Court would probably strike down a wealth tax. After all, it took a constitutional amendment to allow an income tax. What Warren could do though, is switch to an estate tax of, say, 95% on fortunes over $1 billion. The estate tax has already passed muster. The law changing the estate tax would also have to include a provision for an "exit tax" equal to the estate tax to prevent billionaires from simply renouncing their U.S. citizenship.
We note this because it illustrates something that is true of Warren's campaign: She and her team are very creative. Think about her >70,000 selfies. Probably each one goes on social media and is seen by dozens of people, or more. Maybe little gimmicks like this shouldn't matter, but they do, and they always have. William Henry Harrison's supporters rolled a big ball covered in slogans through small towns across the country, Abraham Lincoln's people carried around rails that he had split as a young man, Theodore Roosevelt's campaign staged reenactments of the Battle of San Juan Hill, his cousin Franklin collected dimes for polio research, and Ronald Reagan gave out jellybeans at rallies.
The other Democratic frontrunners have not demonstrated this particular skill, which is at least a little bit of a liability, because Donald Trump's ream has it in spades. Whenever anything happens that can be turned into a product and an "own the libs" moment, they're on it. To take one example, shortly after Starbucks announced its intention to switch to paper straws, for environmental reasons, The Trump campaign began selling Trump-branded "presidential" plastic straws, with the tagline: "Liberal paper straws don't work. STAND WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP and buy your pack of recyclable straws today." Anyhow, if Warren is the nominee, she seems better able to match Trump gimmick for gimmick than her counterparts. (Z)
Speaking of rich guys running for president on the Democratic ticket (see above), the Associated Press had a none-too-flattering story about Tom Steyer on Thursday. It turns out that he's been reaching out to local politicians—in Iowa in particular, but also in other early primary states—and offering to make donations to their campaigns in exchange for their endorsements.
This may be on the legal side of the "bribe" line, but it still looks (and smells) pretty bad. It certainly drives another stake into the heart of a campaign that already had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. It's also a reminder that money alone is not enough to run a successful presidential campaign, so if Michael Bloomberg is going to get in, he better make sure he has more to offer than his checkbook. Of course, Bloomberg did hold elective office for many years, which Steyer has not. (Z)
Gov. Matt Bevin (R-KY) is, in theory, in the final weeks of his term. He was beaten by Gov.-elect Andy Beshear (D-KY), and while the standard "Hail Mary" passes will be attempted, they are very unlikely to change the result. Bevin has alluded to various irregularities in the canvassing, but has failed to produce an iota of proof for his allegations.
As Slate's Richard Hasen points out, all may not be lost for Bevin, though. Kentucky law has a wonky provision, adopted shortly after the Civil War, that gives the legislature the power to settle "disputed" elections. And, like so many laws written in the 19th century, it's not all that clear. Specifically, it doesn't really define what "disputed" actually means. It's at least possible that Bevin could continue to make unsubstantiated claims of fraud or misconduct, and that the Republican-dominated legislature could decide those claims are enough to throw the election to them to decide. At that point, they would presumably declare him the winner. Beshear would respond by suing in federal court, where a judge may or may not be willing to get involved in a state matter.
This scenario would require the folks running the show in Kentucky to engage in some pretty overt and anti-democratic chicanery, and to do so on behalf of a man who is unpopular and who many of them don't care for. So, it's probably a longshot. Still, the possibility is there, so it's worth keeping an eye on. Especially because, if this were to come to pass, it is likely that Democrats would show up in droves on Election Day 2020 to punish the GOP. That would not be good for Senate Majority Leader and 2020 candidate Mitch McConnell (R-KY). (Z)
Moody's continues to collect economic data, which makes sense, because that is their business. They also continue to make predictions about the 2020 presidential election, which makes less sense, because that is not their business. In view of the excellent week that the market had in response to news of a possible thaw in the trade war with China, their latest prediction is particular rosy for Donald Trump. Not only do they see him winning, they expect a landslide.
This is, to be blunt, utter nonsense. In fact, one of their three models has Trump claiming 351 electoral votes. Recalling our rundown of the 14 swingiest states in 2020, 351 EVs would require him to sweep all 14 (including the several where he is badly lagging every major Democratic candidate), and then to somehow find another 20 EVs. Colorado, New Mexico, and Washington, perhaps? Virginia and Oregon?
There were a lot of lessons to be had in the 2016 election, and one of them is that pocketbook issues don't matter as much as they once did. They do matter some, but they're clearly not decisive. It's possible that this is a permanent sea change in American politics, it's also possible that it's a temporarily blip caused by a "culture wars"-centered candidate like Trump. Moody's gets a lot of attention because they're a big name, and they write very official-looking reports, and they've had some success predicting presidential elections in the past. But as long as their model is based more on the politics of the 1970s than it is the politics of the 2010s, they are simply not worthy of that attention. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov07 Most Voters Think Trump Will Be Reelected
Nov07 Russian Media Have Possibly Outed the Whistleblower
Nov07 Even Barr Has His Limits, Apparently
Nov07 Will The Next Impeachment Be Like the Previous Ones?
Nov07 Supreme Court I: A Momentous Decision Ahead
Nov07 Supreme Court II: Chief Umpire Roberts May Soon Get a Project He Doesn't Want
Nov07 Most Republicans Aren't Showing Up for the Impeachment Hearings
Nov07 White Working-Class Women Are Moving Away from Trump
Nov07 Flying to the White House
Nov07 Sessions Is In
Nov07 Pressley Endorses Warren
Nov07 Bevin Makes it Official
Nov07 What Really Matters in the Long Term
Nov06 Bye, Bye Bevin
Nov06 Sondland's Memory Improves
Nov06 Tuesday's Impeachment Maneuvering
Nov06 The State of the Presidential Race, Part I: The New York Times and the Washington Post
Nov06 The State of the Presidential Race, Part II: A Broader View
Nov06 The State of the Presidential Race, Part III: The Betting Markets
Nov06 Democratic Leadership Cool on Kennedy
Nov05 Not a Great Day for Trump, Part I: Impeachment
Nov05 Not a Great Day for Trump, Part II: The Courts
Nov05 Voters Head to the Polls Today
Nov05 U.S. Begins Paris Accord Withdrawal Process
Nov05 About that Move to Florida...
Nov05 The Castro Death Spiral Has Begun, Too
Nov04 Trump Hates Ukraine
Nov04 Trump Also Hates California
Nov04 Whistleblower Willing to Answer Questions in Writing
Nov04 Warren Unveils Medicare for All Funding Plan
Nov04 All in All, It's Just a Hole in the Wall
Nov04 Sports and Trump Just Don't Mix
Nov04 Today's Polls, Part I: The State of the Democratic Race
Nov04 Today's Polls, Part II: Impeachment
Nov03 Sunday Mailbag
Nov02 Beto Says "No Más"
Nov02 Saturday Q&A
Nov01 House Formalizes Impeachment Inquiry
Nov01 About That Offer to the Republican Senators...
Nov01 Trump Unveils 2020 Strategy
Nov01 The Nine Lives of Obamacare
Nov01 Funding Medicare for All May Just Be Viable
Nov01 Democratic Deluge in Virginia
Nov01 Trump Is Now a Floridian
Oct31 Democrats Get Serious About Impeachment Inquiry
Oct31 Senators Start to Squirm
Oct31 Trump Begins Planning His Defense
Oct31 More on Alexander Vindman
Oct31 Mr. Bolton, Please Report for Your Deposition