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It's a Real Mess in Syria

On Saturday, Donald Trump gave the order to have all American troops leave northern Syria. What could have been a gradual withdrawal is rapidly turning into a rout. In physics, nature abhors a vacuum. In the politics of the Middle East, Turkey abhors a vacuum. So the Turkish army moved in, but in the ensuing chaos, hundreds of Islamic State-affiliated people escaped. ISIS fighters may also have escaped.

Yesterday, a senior administration official told the Washington Post: "This is total chaos, a total s***storm." Turkey promised not to harm U.S. soldiers, but Syrian militias allied with Turkey are running rampant and U.S. soldiers could be in danger. Russian and Syrian armies are moving in as well. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said: "We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies and it's a very untenable situation." When asked on Fox News Sunday if he thought Turkey was much of an ally now, Esper said: "I think Turkey, the arc of their behavior over the past several years, has been terrible."

Various world leaders have also criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for invading Syria. He didn't take that well, pointing out that Turkey is a member of NATO and the Kurds (whom he regards as terrorists) are not. He added: "We will not let a terrorist state be established in northeast Syria." What he means is that an independent Kurdistan is not on his agenda and if Western leaders don't agree, well, tough luck for them.

Trump's move tears NATO apart, destabilizes the region, makes Israel nervous, and increases Russian power. Russian President Vladimir Putin is no doubt smiling broadly as he gets up-to-the-minute reports from his minister of defense, Sergey Shoygu.

Whether Trump has spoken to Putin about Syria is not known, but even if he hasn't, the damage to NATO and the reputation of the United States is immense. ISIS will regroup and may start attacking the U.S. again. Trump probably doesn't understand what forces he has unleashed and probably doesn't care unless it starts to affect his reelection campaign. But remember that Republicans went after Hillary Clinton for years on account of the attack at Benghazi in which four Americans died, even though she wasn't directly involved (although she was secretary of state at the time). Heaven help Trump if American soldiers die needlessly in Syria as a direct result of an order he gave. While few American voters understand Russiagate and some American voters understand that extorting a foreign leader is illegal, many Americans can connect the dots when the president gives an order that his own party opposed and Americans die as a result. Trump has no use for prayer, but this would be a good time for him to ask God for a "favor," namely that no Americans die in Syria this week. (V)

Schiff: Whistleblower May Not Testify

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) indicated yesterday that the whistleblower of Whistleblowergate fame may not testify before Congress. Schiff said that he is afraid for that person's safety, what with Donald Trump basically calling for his or her head on a pike every day. Schiff is afraid that if the Republicans on his committee learn the person's identity, they will tell Trump, who will then go after that person with a vengeance.

Schiff hasn't said what he will do next. One possibility is that he could interview the WB himself and have someone accurately transcribe it. Schiff was a prosecutor before being elected to Congress, so he knows how to question people. He could then release the transcript. Of course that would not satisfy Republicans on the committee who want to interrogate the WB, but Schiff doesn't trust them. Let's step back and rephrase this: The chairman of a House committee doesn't trust the members from the other party, due to his not unreasonable fear that they will out a witness and endanger that person's life because the president wants to silence him or her. Welcome to America in 2019. (V)

Tomorrow's Debate Could Be Crucial

All debates are crucial but some debates are more crucial. Tomorrow's debate in Ohio could be a turning point for several of the Democratic presidential candidates, each for a different reason. Among other things:

  • Joe Biden has to show that he can debate for 3 hours without becoming gaffe-prone in the last hour
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has to show she can survive being a co-front runner now
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has to show that his heart attack hasn't slowed him down
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) has to show why he should be in the first tier, not the second tier
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) has to break out; it's probably now or never for her
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) has to show that when she threatens to boycott a debate, she means it
  • Tom Steyer has to demonstrate that he is not a broken record

For the benefit of people who don't know what a record is, despite Joe Biden's single-handedly bringing record players and records back from the dead, a 33-RPM record (LP) is a flat piece of vinyl with a spiral groove in it with music recorded along it. Sometimes the groove got scratched and the same 2 seconds of music would play over and over. Steyer has to avoid saying: "I am for fighting climate change" 30 times in his 60-second time slot.

Sanders probably has the most on the line. Warren has passed him almost everywhere and is still rising. She has even passed Biden in many polls. If Sanders isn't his vigorous old self, a lot of people are going to write him off as being too old and sick. In politics, perceptions are everything and once a politician is seen as yesterday's candidate, it's all over. So he needs a strong performance to stay in the mix. In contrast, all Warren needs is to avoid making any mistakes.

If there was ever a time for the younger candidates to make the pitch for "generational change," it is now. Pete Buttigieg has the disadvantage of some people seeing him as wet behind the ears, but with Sanders' health problems on display, Buttigieg (and to a lesser extent, Harris) can point to all the septuagenarians on stage and note that one of the Democrats' most beloved presidents, Jack Kennedy, was only 43 when inaugurated. If he wins, Buttigieg will be 39 on Inauguration Day (actually, he will also be 39 if he is not inaugurated).

Biden has to deal with all the arrows heading in his direction on account of Ukraine. At the very least, he is going to have to explain how his son, Hunter, got a $50,000/month job with a Ukrainian energy company, when he is not an expert on Ukrainian energy. Hunter probably didn't break any laws and Joe certainly didn't, but if he is the nominee, Trump is going to try to make the whole campaign about this so he better be able to handle it well. Already, Trump is leading "lock him up" chants at his rallies.

For the others, nice try, but no, not everyone can grow up to be president. Sorry. (V)

Correction: In response to the feedback we've gotten, we're going to post corrections for any substantive factual errors we might make. So: We originally had Biden's salary at $50,000/year, but it was actually $50,000/month.

CBS Early States Poll: Warren 31%, Biden 25%, Sanders 17%

Yesterday CBS released a YouGov poll of voters in 18 early primary and caucus states. Here are the results for candidates at 1% or more:

Candidate Pct.
Elizabeth Warren 31%
Joe Biden 25%
Bernie Sanders 17%
Kamala Harris 7%
Pete Buttigieg 5%
Beto O'Rourke 4%
Cory Booker 1%
Amy Klobuchar 1%
Julián Castro 1%
Andrew Yang 1%
Tom Steyer 1%
Michael Bennet 1%

YouGov also asked supporters of each candidate whether their support was strong, somewhat strong, or not strong. It found that 56% of Warren's supporters are strong, 55% of Biden's supporters are strong, and 72% of Sanders' supporters are strong. That doesn't bode well if Warren continues to surge and Sanders refuses to give up. If the progressive wing continues to be divided and Biden gets the nomination, a lot depends on whether Sanders' extremely loyal supporters are willing to vote in the general election for someone they consider to be "the lesser of two evils." In 2016, that attitude didn't work out so well for the Democrats.

In Iowa, the top three are in an almost exact three-way tie. Warren is clearly ahead in New Hampshire and Biden is clearly ahead in South Carolina.

Using a simulation model based on the polling results, CBS computed that in the 18 early states, Warren would get 720 delegates, Biden would get 577, Sanders would get 159, and O'Rourke would get 30. No one else is in double digits. (V)

NBC Poll: 55% Want Impeachment Inquiry

A new NBC News poll released yesterday shows that 24% of all American adults want Donald Trump impeached and removed from office, 31% want to hold an inquiry to see if impeachment is warranted, and 39% don't think there is enough evidence to impeach. It's a sloppy poll. The third alternative should have been: "There is not enough evidence to even warrant an inquiry." This really muddies the waters, since impeaching and holding an inquiry aren't the same thing. In any event, 55% favor an inquiry, which is what is happening now.

The crosstabs are not surprising. 42% of Democrats want Trump removed from office right now and another 45% want to have an inquiry to see where it goes. Among Republicans, the numbers are 7% for immediate removal and 13% for an inquiry. Among independents it is 20% for removal and 40% for an inquiry. In short, Trump's base is still solid. According to the poll, 84% of Republicans approve of the job he is doing.

The poll dug down a bit deeper and asked Republicans if they were more Trump supporters or supporters of the Republican Party. Among Trump Republicans, 91% are against an inquiry. Among party Republicans, 58% are against an inquiry. The pollster didn't report on how big each group was. (V)

If Trump Isn't the 2020 GOP Nominee, Who Might Be?

Until Whistleblowergate started, anyone who made a list of possible Republican presidential nominees with more than one person on it would have gotten very strange reactions from just about everyone. Now, there is a small, but non-zero, probability that Donald Trump will not be the GOP nominee. All it might take is for one brave person who was close to the fire to go before Congress and testify in public that he or she personally heard Trump extort Ukraine for dirt on Joe Biden.

Despite the low probability of Trump not being the nominee, the Washington Post now has added a ranking of Republican candidates to its weekly ranking of the Democrats. Here are the two lists:

Rank Candidate
1. Elizabeth Warren
2. Joe Biden
3. Pete Buttigieg
4. Bernie Sanders
5. Kamala Harris
6. Cory Booker
7. Amy Klobuchar
8. Beto O'Rourke
9. Andrew Yang
10. Julián Castro
Rank Candidate
1. Donald Trump
2. Mike Pence
3. Mitt Romney
4. Nikki Haley
5. Tom Cotton
6. Josh Hawley
7. Jeff Flake
8. Ben Sasse
9. (TIE) John Kasich
9. (TIE) Mike Pompeo

We beg to differ with the Post on the Republican rankings. We cannot conceive of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) or Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) as the nominee. No one outside of their respective states has ever heard of them, and there is hardly a lot of time for the voters to get to know them. In contrast, former Ohio governor John Kasich is well known and probably should replace Cotton in the list, maybe even higher than Nikki Haley, since Republican voters may not be ready for a minority woman quite yet, even one who is qualified. Also, if Whistleblowergate explodes, it will probably take down Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well as Trump (and maybe even Pence).

Trump's hands may be small, but his shoes are big and hard to fill. None of the people on the Post's list have Trump's primary skill: Trolling the libs. That's what his base loves more than anything. So maybe a candidate from outside politics who is good at that might run and get the nomination, say, someone like Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson. (V)


Donald Trump can't tolerate any criticism. In fact, he can't even tolerate simple facts he doesn't like. Case in point: a recent Fox News poll showing that 51% of voters want him impeached and removed from office (although the NBC poll above suggests that maybe the Fox poll was an outlier). He responded to the poll by attacking Fox. In fact, he has been attacking Fox more and more of late, claiming that it is insufficiently Trumpist. While Sean Hannity is completely in his pocket, the news side, especially the departing Shep Smith, is somewhat neutral. In August he tweeted:

This tweet says point blank that he does not expect (or want) Fox to be in the news business. He wants it to be his support team. It's sort of like a sports team kvetching that the referees aren't rooting for their team. And as Rupert Murdoch's sons take over, it's going to get worse for Trump, because if they want to keep Fox viable, they are going to have to expand their viewership beyond aging angry blue-collar workers.

So what is Trump's solution to his problem? He is pushing a new network, the One America News Network, which is completely dedicated to him. He recently said of the new network: "Thank you to @OANN One American news for your fair coverage and brilliant reporting." When OANN began in 2013, it didn't immediately pose a threat to Fox, which would have been foolish. But now, with Trump's aggressive support (starting with 34 tweets praising OANN in the past 4 years), the newbie is starting to make waves. It prides itself on being Trump's new BFF.

OANN is far to the right of Fox and makes no attempt to present actual news. Praise for Trump is alternated with conspiracy theories and lies that even Fox won't touch. It's more like an amped up video version of Breitbart or The Blaze. So far, no high-profile Fox hosts have departed for OANN. One reason is that OANN reaches only 35 million households (vs. 96 million for Fox). This translates into less advertising revenue and less money available to pay big stars. But if Trump continues to dump on Fox and praise OANN, things could change, and OANN could possibly even replace Fox as the main source of right-wing news (if any) and opinion. (V)

Warren Buys Facebook Ads to Show the Need for "Censorship"

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has bought ads on Facebook claiming that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg backs Trump. That's not true, but that is Warren's whole point. Zuckerberg claims he can't/won't try to remove fake ads. Now he is confronted with a clearly fake ad that hits him directly and exposes what happens when anyone can buy an ad and say whatever they want.

After making the false claim, Warren goes on to concede that it is false, but says that indirectly, Zuckerberg elected Trump once and that it is now time to hold Zuckerberg accountable. A spokesman for Facebook, Andy Stone, responded: "If Senator Warren wants to say things she knows to be untrue, we believe Facebook should not be in a position of censoring that speech." A reasonable conclusion to draw from this is that if Russians buy more ads on Facebook next year, Facebook will be happy to take their rubles. It's a gamble, of course, because if Warren is elected president, Facebook is going to have a big problem.

Zuckerberg knows that and has even said that a Warren presidency would "suck" for the site. Over the weekend, the feud between Warren and Zuckerberg continued. Warren said the company is "taking money to promote lies." Zuckerberg came back with: "FCC doesn't want broadcast companies censoring candidates' speech." Of course, Warren isn't asking Zuckerberg to censor legitimate politicking from Americans. She wants him to censor Russian trolls who by law may not interfere in an American election. She might also like him to disallow the use of his platform to propagate obvious falsehoods (the way that CNN, for example, disallows obviously false ads). (V)

General Election Debate Schedule Is Now Available

Maybe it is a bit early to be talking about the general-election presidential debates because: (1) we don't know who the Democratic nominee will be, (2) we don't even know for sure who the Republican nominee will be, and (3) if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, we don't know if he will show up. Nevertheless, the Commission on Presidential Debates has announced the general-election debate schedule. Here it is:

Date Type Location City
Sept. 29 Presidential University of Notre Dame South Bend, IN
Oct. 7 Vice-presidential University of Utah Salt Lake City, UT
Oct. 15 Presidential University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI
Oct. 22 Presidential Belmont University Nashville, TN

With all due respect to the Commission, they kind of screwed up. Doing debates at universities is fine. No problem with that. The list even has some geographic distribution, although Michigan and Indiana are both in the Midwest. Also, three of the states are deep red (Indiana, Tennessee, and Utah) and none are deep blue. It seems to us that picking universities in four swing states in four regions of the country would have been better. Couldn't they find universities in, say, New Hampshire, Florida, Michigan, and Nevada?

It matters, because the audience in three of the states is sure to be heavily Republican. Michigan is a swing state but Ann Arbor is not a swing city, so there the audience will be heavily Democratic. In principle, the audience is supposed to keep quiet, but you never know. It would have been better to pick four cities in which a randomly selected group of 500 people would probably be roughly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. (V)

Louisiana Gubernatorial Race Will Go to a Runoff

Louisiana held its gubernatorial jungle primary on Saturday and none of the candidates made it to 50%, so the top two will duke it out again in the Nov. 16 general election. Coming in first Saturday was Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA), with 47% of the vote. Millionaire businessman Eddie Rispone was second at 27%. Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) was third with 24% of the vote. So, the incumbent governor will face a wealthy political novice in the general election.

The two Republicans combined got more votes than Edwards, so if every Republican shows up again and votes for Rispone, he will win. If Edwards wins, he will be able to veto a Republican gerrymander after the 2020 census, so D.C. Republicans will pull out all stops to help Rispone. Donald Trump and Mike Pence showed up for the primary and will surely show up again for the general election.

Edwards is the only Democratic governor in the deep South. His victory in 2015 may have been a fluke, because his opponent then was David Vitter, who was caught up in a prostitution scandal. On the other hand, if we had to pick the state where a prostitution scandal would do the least harm, it would be Louisiana. No one would mistake Edwards for a male version of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a southern accent. He is against abortion and gun control and talks about working with the Trump administration. But he got half a million people health care and lowered the state's uninsured population to below the national level. He also stabilized the state's finances. Edwards will try to run a campaign based on how much he has done for Louisiana. Rispone will try to run a campaign saying that he loves Donald Trump more than he loves his mother. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct13 Sunday Mailbag
Oct12 Three-Judge Panel: Surrender the Tax Returns
Oct12 Yovanovitch Appears Before Congress
Oct12 Giuliani Won't Work on Ukraine-related Matters Anymore
Oct12 Trump Has a (Trade) Deal, Sort Of
Oct12 Kevin McAleenan Quits Team Trump
Oct12 Shephard Smith Quits Fox News
Oct12 Saturday Q&A
Oct11 Two of Giuliani's Buddies Are Arrested
Oct11 Rick Perry Gets Subpoenaed
Oct11 Fox News Poll: 51% of Voters Want Trump Impeached and Convicted
Oct11 Seventeen of the Watergate Prosecutors Want to See Trump Impeached
Oct11 Trump Lambastes Jeff Sessions
Oct11 Steyer Pulls in a $2 Million Haul in Q3
Oct11 Gabbard Goes Full Sour Grapes
Oct11 Shimkus Dumps Trump
Oct11 Rep. Nita Lowey Will Retire
Oct10 Turkey Invades Syria and Republicans Condemn Trump for Enabling It
Oct10 Graham Warns Pelosi that the Senate Won't Impeach Trump
Oct10 House Democrats Are Planning Subpoenas
Oct10 Biden Calls on House to Impeach Trump
Oct10 CBS Has Published a Memo the Whistleblower Wrote the Day after the Call
Oct10 Sanders Is Scaling Back His Campaigning
Oct10 Biden Leads Warren in North Carolina
Oct10 Impeachment Is Helping the Republicans
Oct10 Manufacturing Sector Is Officially in Recession
Oct10 Republicans Are Trying to Get the Amish to Vote
Oct09 Impeachment Battle Lines Harden
Oct09 U.S. to Pull Out of Another Treaty
Oct09 A Little Grift, Campaign-Style
Oct09 Let's Just Start Calling it the Trump National Committee
Oct09 Warren Learning About Life with a Big Target on Your Back
Oct09 Polling Update
Oct09 Almost Half the Country Wants Trump Removed from Office
Oct09 Fifth Debate Details Are Set
Oct08 Tail, Meet Dog
Oct08 China to Trump: Your 2020 Campaign Is None of Our Business
Oct08 Judge to Trump: Fork 'em Over
Oct08 Barbara Res Predicts Trump Will Resign
Oct08 Brace Yourself for 2020, Part I: Trump vs. Biden
Oct08 Brace Yourself for 2020, Part II: Ratfu**ing
Oct08 Warren Hires Texas State Campaign Director
Oct07 There Are Now Multiple Whistleblowers
Oct07 Trump Blames Perry for Call to Zelensky
Oct07 Most Republicans Still Back Trump
Oct07 The DNC Is Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Oct07 Is Dirt a Thing of Value?
Oct07 Will Trump Be Done in by a Lack of Toadies?
Oct07 Biden Donors Are Worried
Oct07 Democrats Are Worried about Who Tulsi Gabbard Will Attack Next