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• Sunday Mailbag
Louisiana held its runoff election(s) on Saturday, and the biggest item on the ballot was the gubernatorial race. When the votes were counted, incumbent John Bel Edwards (D) won by a close, but not that close margin, taking 774,469 votes (51.3%) to Eddie Rispone's (R) 734,128 (48.7%).
Rispone ran on Trumpism, and the GOP and the President did everything in their power to pull him over the finish line. It didn't work and, in fact, he slightly underperformed the polls taken before the Republicans dumped $2 million and unleashed 60 staffers in the state, and Trump staged one of his signature rallies. As with Kentucky two weeks ago, the President said that this was personal, and that a loss would be a big black eye for him. And, as with Kentucky two weeks ago, he said nary a word on Twitter as the results came in.
We must be careful not to generalize too much from two off-year election results. Nonetheless, in Kentucky and Louisiana we have two gubernatorial candidates who hugged Trump very close in deep-red states, and yet lost. Not only that, they each underperformed the President's approval rating in their state; Rispone was about 5 points behind Trump (54% approval in Louisiana), and Matt Bevin of Kentucky lagged Trump by a virtually identical margin (he got 48.8% of the vote, Trump's approval rating is 54%).
What this suggests is that Trump has virtually no coattails. It also suggests that nearly any state could plausibly be in play in 2020, if the Democratic candidate is acceptable to voters there. Obviously, the Party can't run a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment Blue Dog like Edwards for president, as the progressives would be furious. But in purple states, a centrist Democrat like Joe Biden, or maybe even a more lefty Democrat like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) can plausibly hope to collect most of the non-Trump vote, especially if the candidate focuses on noncontroversial issues like infrastructure and jobs and maybe even inequality. Meanwhile, this month's results are certainly encouraging for Blue Dog U.S. Senate candidates running in the South, including MJ Hegar in Texas and Amy McGrath in Kentucky. (Z)
If you don't like reading about impeachment, you've got the wrong site.
Looking Into the Impeachment Crystal Ball
V & Z: I wonder about the prevailing wisdom that it would hurt Democrats if the impeachment hearings continued too far into 2020. It seems to me that while there is certainly damning evidence already coming forward, there are still reams of documents that the White House is refusing to turn over, or allow to be turned over, as well as the firsthand witnesses that Republicans view as so critical to the inquiry. We should have a definitive answer regarding those subpoenas in the coming months, either because the Supreme Court declines to hear the case or hears it and issues a ruling—perhaps even sooner than normal given the urgency of the matter. We are also, in all likelihood, going to see Trump's tax returns, which could reveal why Trump carries Putin's water in everything he does. In addition, SDNY is inching closer to an indictment of Giuliani. He can obviously fill in the missing pieces of this puzzle and would, I suspect, trade cooperation for his freedom. Given that all of this evidence won't be revealed until well into 2020, the only ones who really benefit from a swift conclusion to the impeachment proceedings are Trump and his acolytes in the GOP. They can plausibly claim that the evidence they have doesn't warrant conviction and removal from office. Then, when the most incriminating evidence is revealed after Trump has been acquitted, will the public want the Dems to start this process all over again? Methinks not. So, I suggest that Schiff slow his roll and let these other strands of this scandal play out. The importance of that evidence far outweighs any speculative impact to the Democratic primary process. A.R., Los Angeles, CA
V & Z: I have been a forensic engineer for over 25 years. In that capacity, I diagnose failures from the available facts. I sometimes run into a case where no plausible diagnosis fits all of the facts. When that happens, it is time to take another look at what you believe to be facts and what unthinking assumptions you might have made.
In my opinion, for the past year or longer, Donald Trump and his followers have been making "public" statements when in fact their words are only intended for the people that follow the right-leaning/right-dependent media. How those statements are presented in traditional media channels does not matter enough to influence their behavior. While the behavior is puzzling and disturbing to rational people, it means that the "right" is operating as if the American media and American people are already divided into two irreconcilable camps and that moderate/swing voters don't matter enough to bother with. An intellectually honest assessment would have to concede the first part is largely true and the second part is possibly true.
With this understanding of how things work, the behavior of the Republicans in Congress is rational. Being "reasonable" is not good enough, because they have to scare, anger, or excite their voters enough to turn out disproportionately and overcome any demographic disadvantage. They have recognized that they cannot have it both ways and appeal to their base by pouring gasoline on fires while appealing to the middle by being sensible and even-handed. They have stopped trying to appear reasonable.
The right base voters are not listening to any reasons for removing Trump from office and won't be influenced by hearings and witnesses that don't fit their worldview. This being the case, Republican Senators have no political reason to move off their positions no matter what the facts are. Trump will not be removed from office this way. While I wish it were not so, I confess a grudging admiration for their resolve, unity, and clarity of action. R.T., Arlington, TX
V & Z: I've frequently seen you cite the aphorism "If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table." However, I have recently seen it in a different, negative, formulation: "If you don't have the facts, pound the law, if you don't have the law, pound the facts, if you don't have either, pound the table." Perhaps it's a subtle difference, but to me, this seems a more accurate characterization of the Republicans' strategy of moving the goalposts and working the referee. K.W., Providence, RI
V & Z: I woke up this morning thinking that the man the hearings are putting in hot seat at the moment—and for the foreseeable future—is John Roberts. The more convincing—and damning— the impeachment testimony is, the less likely Roberts is going to be to make the kinds of rulings Trump is going to be asking the Supreme Court to make. Already, the tax return question is on the Court's plate, and more are coming, some of them based on really wild theories (the president can't even be investigated, let alone indicted) which the Court will have to contort itself to support.
I agree with you that Roberts is concerned about the Court's stature and reputation. I don't think Roberts will want to appear to be hiding evidence for a president who looks guiltier every day as more witnesses testify under oath. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) & Co. seem ready to go down with Trump (maybe), but ruling for Trump will completely upend the separation of powers, which jurists take very seriously. Even Thomas and Alito may have a problem with this, because Supreme Court justices also have an eye to their own place in history, which is painstakingly reviewed by law students, professors and historians. So, I foresee a lot of refusals to review lower court decisions that go against Trump. It only takes 4 justices to take a case, but I can't see any of the justices except possibly Gorsuch and Kavanaugh wanting to get pulled into the mess. J.E.T., Albany, NY
V & Z: Political motivations don't make an investigation illegitimate. See e-mails, Clinton; Russia, Trump; Fast and Furious, Obama; Scooter Libby. But these and others were all formal investigations, which seems like the difference here. Sending Rudy Giuliani, a personal (and thus non-government) agent, to coordinate with a foreign power absent any formal U.S. investigation seems like textbook abuse of power. M.H., Seattle, WA
Watch the Language!
V & Z: You used the old phrase "I will bet you dollars to donuts." This phrase doesn't have the same meaning that it once had. I would think that millennials may not understand what your point is, because they very often are paying more than a dollar for a donut at Starbucks and other places. J.A., Henderson, NV
Note: Maybe that one does need an update. "I will bet you C-notes to venti lattes"?
V & Z: I must take exception to you spelling Kyiv as Kiev in the second paragraph of your 14 November post. Since the 1920s (the League of Nations), the world has usually tried to change its names for cities based on the ethnic background of those who lived there. As such, the people of Ukraine wish to be known as Kyiv, not Kiev, for the same reason they're no longer 'the Ukraine', as opposed to just 'Ukraine'. They are the ones who choose their own destiny. The only reason it was Kiev instead of Kyiv was because the international community wanted to change how it was transliterated from Russian slavic, as opposed to Ukrainian slavic. D.G., Marrickville, Australia
Note: Our general preference is for Kyiv, for this reason, but old habits die hard and that one slipped through.
V & Z: You wrote: "It would be nice if, just for once, the turtle could put the best interests of the country ahead of his own partisan goals." Please don't stoop to name-calling based on looks. It is beneath you guys. Leave it to the late-night guys on the air. S.L., Monrovia, CA
V & Z: You have pointed out over the years how divided the country and political discourse have become. You have also highlighted from time to time how powerful word choice and phrasing can be in shaping views and opinions. I would like to suggest that you avoid words and phrases that imply in your writing that Democrats and Republicans (and by extension, their voters) are inherently enemies (even if that means you have to be a bit more repetitive with labels than you would prefer). For example, phrases like "the blue team" further contribute to the already-growing "us versus them" mentality surrounding politics. S.S., Long Beach, CA
Trump Isn't the Only Republican Who Botched Foreign Policy
V & Z: I find your chosen examples of the "worst foreign policy president in U.S. history" to be bewildering. Why did you choose those three presidents—all Democrats? I mean, was it Jimmy Carter's fault that he served during a period of particularly aggressive behavior of other nations (Iran, USSR, etc.) based on long-brewing past trends? I'd say that Nobel Peace Prize is well earned, revealing him as one of the best foreign-policy presidents in spite of his truly-horrific luck. And it appears you're blaming Woodrow Wilson for what followed the Treaty of Versailles (i.e., World War II). If anything, he tried gallantly to prevent World War II (see: League of Nations). I rather think that most historians of 20th century Europe would find it odd to see Wilson on a list like this.
Then, it's also odd that while listing the 'blunders' of these Democrats you failed to mention some real doozys by Republican presidents, such as:
- The George W. Bush-Dick Cheney attack on Iraq—purely borrowed trouble which produced a lasting and bloody stain on the world
- I think most historians trace the Vietnam war debacle to the Gulf of Tonkin treaty (and therefore Eisenhower), so I wouldn't pin it all on Lyndon B. Johnson
- While quick to say that Woodrow Wilson 'screwed around in Latin America' and messed it up, you skipped over also disastrous meddling there by Richard Nixon (1970s), and notably Ronald Reagan in the 1980s
I admit that this is a highly subjective matter, but it appears you went out of your way to blame only Democratic presidents for the world's worst problems. And, no, topping it off with Trump—bad as he is—doesn't make the argument any more credible (he's now in a class by himself anyway). J.L., Portland, OR
Note: You raise some fair points, but we must point out that Jimmy Carter won the Nobel well after leaving office, and almost entirely for things that had nothing to do with his time in office, and the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was adopted while Johnson was president, and at his urging.
V & Z: Granted, Carter was a good man but unready for the promotion from Georgia governor to the Big Leagues of Washington. Certainly, Wilson's racism and acceptance of colonialism was an embarrassment and a poor way to begin the 20th Century. Absolutely, LBJ's Southeast Asia policy was a blunder. But the greatest foreign affairs catastrophe in Presidential history HAD to be Reagan's using the saying "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" to guide U.S. policy in Afghanistan, to sing the praises of the Mujaheddin and give them weapons. Reagan, in his rabid anti-Soviet mindset, assumed that if the Afghani resistance was eager to fight against the USSR, they had to be pro-U.S. and supporters of capitalism, democracy and individual freedoms. In fact, the Mujaheddin saw the USA and the USSR as opposite sides of the same worthless coin: secular, materialistic, and anti-Islamic. The people of Afghanistan went out of the frying pan into the fire—from the Soviet occupation to the Taliban regime. The worst consequence of all was to promote and embolden a Mujaheddin lieutenant, the Saudi playboy-adventurer Osama Bin Laden. (While I'm on the subject of Reagan's pernicious legacy, he was the start of the bizarre trend of celebrities with zero government experience or expertise—Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, and Donald Trump—running for and being elected to high executive office.) H.F., Pittsburgh, PA
V & Z: I'm sure you're getting a lot of feedback on the piece calling Trump the worst foreign policy president. I don't disagree with what you wrote, but I wonder why you overlooked Bush 43. The war in Iraq has been an expensive disaster and many have linked U.S. actions there to the rise of ISIS; moreover, the invasion was predicated on bald-faced lies by the administration and the president. In terms of loss of life, financial cost, and imperilment of the U.S.'s standing in the world, does the Iraq war not rank among the great American blunders? R.W.P., Washington, D.C.
Democrats and Delegates
V & Z: In your item on state polls, you note that a candidate needs 15% of the vote to win any delegates. I wanted to clarify that Democrats award both statewide and by congressional district. Therefore, if a candidate gets 10% statewide she or he still may end up with a handful of delegates if the vote heavily favors certain congressional districts in which she or he did clear 15%. C.J., Lowell, MA
Note: You're absolutely right, though this rarely gives minor candidates more than a small number of delegates.
Thoughts on the Horse Race
V & Z: Sen. Kamala Harris's (D-CA) campaign giving up the ghost? Harris's campaign hasn't a ghost of a chance?
I don't know if you ever do campaign autopsies, but my experience with the Harris campaign left me scratching my head. Though I bought two yard signs and a bumper sticker online from her campaign store, I never received a single follow up e-mail asking for donations or to volunteer. Something's seriously missing from the structural aspect of a modern campaign, wouldn't you say? M.M., San Diego, CA
V & Z: I originally viewed Elizabeth Warren as first and foremost a pragmatist. And I think that she probably still is pragmatic when it comes to governance, but her decision to hammer home some of her most left-leaning, progressive ideas is killing her with independents and the few moderate Republicans who still exist. I know she has a fine line to walk, having to fend off Bernie Sanders for the nomination, but I don't understand why she has felt the need to get into such explicit detail about her policies. Surely she could telegraph her progressive slant without giving her opponents solid, specific things to object to? Especially since those specific things are extremely unlikely to ever make it into law even if Democrats win the White House, the Senate, and keep the House. They certainly won't without substantial moderating changes.
I'd much rather have her than Joe Biden. I'd rather have her than Bernie Sanders, and I voted for him in the 2016 primaries. I'd even rather have her than "Mayor Pete," despite the fact that, as a gay man, I'd love to live to see an openly gay President. But if she keeps hammering on progressive policies that seem extremely unlikely to even make it to a vote in her advertised form, let alone become law without massive alterations, she'll lose the election to Trump because moderates will just stay home. They'll hate Trump, but will either be scared Warren will actually somehow do what she's said, or will believe she'll just lead to a huge reactionary vote for post-Trump Republicans. E.M., Chicago, IL
V & Z: Moderates will not support a progressive. Moderates do not back Warren, they will only back Biden, the moderate in the race. We must work hard to defeat progressives at all cost. Too far to the left, no free lunches, people need to pay for what they have. G.M., Niantic, CT
V & Z: A note on African-American support for Biden, which you attributed to the Obama coattail effect in today's piece. In 2008, a majority of African-American voters did not support Obama until after Iowa/New Hampshire, because they did not think he could win—they were strongly tilted toward Clinton until after they realized white people would vote for a black candidate, as evidenced by the early primaries. See this, for example.
It is possible to imagine African-American support for Biden coming less from his association with Obama than from a shared belief that he is the safest and most electable candidate (certainly the common wisdom across the board in the early stages of the process).
My point is that you suggested today that even if Biden does poorly in IA/NH, he can make up ground in SC. I think that may not be true. Losing the early states may also cost him the African-American vote, which would take SC out of his reach as well. E.H., Poughkeepsie, NY
V & Z: I think it's pretty obvious why Deval Patrick is running. Moderates want to further dilute the Progressive vote and make it easier for a moderate to win. The thought is he will siphon votes from Warren and Sanders in New Hampshire. He has no shot to get the nomination. He's just there to mess with NH primary. D.V., New York, NY
V & Z: In your Wednesday item about Democratic "contenders," you forgot someone: Jimmy Carter! He's eligible for a second term (and you thought Cleveland had a gap between terms!). Never mind he just had brain surgery and is 95. C.B., Edina, MN
Note: And Walter Mondale is still alive, too. They could get the band back together!
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Nov15 The State of the Democratic Race, Part I: National Polls
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Nov14 Taylor and Kent Testify
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Nov14 Impeachment Could Cost the GOP
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