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Mike Pence Practices "The Art of the Deal"

On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence was dispatched (along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo) to Turkey in order to work out a deal on Syria with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. And on Thursday, less than 24 hours after getting on a plane, Pence reported back with big news: a temporary ceasefire has been reached!

If you are surprised that a deal was worked out so very quickly, especially since the flight from Washington to Ankara takes about 13 hours, well, you're right to be skeptical. To start, the Turkish government quickly said that they had not signed off, and that, in any case, the deal is not a ceasefire. Meanwhile, the leadership of Syrian Kurdish forces said they had not been consulted at all, and that they rejected the agreement in toto. That means we have a bipartisan agreement that is, at best, monopartisan, and is, at worst, nullpartisan. And yes, we did just make up that word, because nonpartisan is already in use for a different concept.

More significantly, the details of the "deal," such as it is, have a decided slant. Note that the U.S. government had been negotiating with the Turkish government over this matter for many weeks before the recent blow-up. What Turkey wanted, during the course of negotiations, was a 20-mile-wide zone of control in northern Syria. They also demanded an end to the autonomous Kurdish political unit of Rojava.

Pence and Pompeo, who had additional leverage given the sanctions that were just imposed on Turkey, managed to negotiate the following deal: The sanctions will be ended, and Turkey will be given a 20-mile-wide zone of control in Northern Syria. Further, before Pence and Pompeo already arrived, the Kurds had already cut deals with Syria and Russia, de facto bringing Rojava to an end.

You may notice that Turkey appears to have gotten everything it wanted, while the United States and the Kurds got...nothing. That is certainly how it looks to folks who have followed this matter closely. Consider these headlines from Thursday:

Clearly, Pence has been watching carefully and taking notes as he watched Trump negotiate over the last few years, like the time the President was forced to utterly capitulate to Congress during the government shutdown.

As the headlines above suggest, Trump spent much of the day crowing about this great success. There were a bunch of tweets like this one, of course:

The President also described the deal as an "incredible outcome," and at his rally in Texas on Thursday night, heaped praise on Erdoğan: "I just want to thank and congratulate President Erdoğan. He's a friend of mine and I'm glad we didn't have a problem because frankly he is a hell of a leader and a tough man, a strong man."

Obviously, many other folks in Washington were not nearly as impressed with Team Trump as Trump was. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) issued a statement describing the agreement as a "sham" and opining that "President Erdoğan has given up nothing, and President Trump has given him everything." And Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who really might be preparing himself to lead anti-Trump Republicans in the Senate, blasted the accord as "a bloodstain on the annals of American history" and said that Trump backed down in the face of a bully.

Indeed, this whole drama follows the same pattern we've seen several times before, most obviously with North Korea:

  1. A crisis (sometimes created by Trump, sometimes not) emerges
  2. Trump rages on Twitter while his counterpart does a little saber-rattling
  3. Trump wilts and gives up concessions in exchange for an empty "deal" that he can tout as a victory
  4. Trump takes many victory laps, kisses his counterpart's rear end, and starts talking about how it's high time that he be given a Nobel Peace Prize.

It makes it rather easy for America's adversaries—Kim Jong-Un, Vlad Putin, Xi Jinping, Erdoğan—to do pretty much whatever they want, since they have seen so clearly what the "Art of the Deal" looks like, as practiced by the Trump administration. (Z)

"Mick the Knife" Stabs Trump in the Back

Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney held a press conference on Thursday to announce the site of next year's G-7 summit (see below). And predictably, the conversation turned to the Ukraine scandal, and the Chief of Staff's role therein. When asked whether the administration held up aid to Ukraine in order to squeeze favors out of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, Mulvaney grew irritated and said that of course they had, adding:

We do that all the time with foreign policy...I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.

In other words, he just confirmed the central claim of the whistleblower, something that the administration had consistently denied until Mulvaney ran his mouth.

Republicans were aghast that Mulvaney admitted to the quid pro quo, with some aggravated that he did serious harm to Donald Trump, and others behaving as if this was new and shocking news that casts the whole situation in a new light. "You don't hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative," declared Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), while Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) described the admission as "troubling" and "not a good thing." Mulvaney, for his part, tried to walk back his remarks later in the day, but we all know what happens once the cat is no longer in the bag.

Naturally, House Democrats want to talk to Mulvaney pronto, since they recognize that he has just presented them with something very close to a smoking gun. He's already under subpoena, and is presumably going to resist that, but he won't be able to fend them off forever. And once he's being grilled, he's going to have to explain exactly what he meant when he said "yes" and "we do that all the time." He's also going to have to answer a lot of other tough questions, and will presumably be forced to choose between throwing Trump under the bus, invoking the Fifth Amendment (which would be almost as bad, politically, since it would make him look guilty), or perjuring himself and risking serious prison time. One wonders if Mick the Knife isn't longing for the days when he was just a simple congressman from rural South Carolina, and not the linchpin of what could become one of the great political scandals of all time.

It is shocking that Mulvaney would make such a massive, unforced error. Maybe he really did get hot under the collar and did lose his head just long enough to (accidentally) stick it to Trump. On the other hand, he's much smarter and more cagey than the President. Maybe there's some 3-D chess going on here, and Mulvaney is setting himself up to play the John Dean role, and save his own neck. The latter scenario is not likely, but it's certainly not impossible. You never know what the rats will do when the ship begins to sink. (Z)

Sondland Points the Finger at Giuliani

Another day, another Trump administration insider on the Hill, sharing information about the Ukraine situation. On Thursday, it was U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, who was intimately involved in efforts to put pressure on Volodymyr Zelensky.

The story that Sondland told was right in line with what we have already heard and what we already know. He said that he and other folks responsible for interacting with Ukraine were given no option but to use TV lawyer/fixer Rudy Giuliani as a conduit:

Based on the President's direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President's concerns...

Sondland also explained that, over time, it became clear that the "President's concerns," included getting dirt on the Biden family, which made the Ambassador very uneasy.

Of all the people who have testified before the various House committees so far, Sondland is probably the one who is most exposed, since he had a fairly direct role in communicating a possible quid pro quo to Zelensky. It is not surprising, then, that many of the Representatives who heard his testimony on Thursday felt he was not entirely forthcoming when it came to his own mistakes and bad behavior. Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA), for example, observed that the Ambassador seemed to have a "severe case of selective amnesia." Still, there was a consensus that he was credible on the things that he did say, which means that even if Mick Mulvaney had not run his mouth (see above), Thursday was yet another day when Team Trump's position got a little weaker. (Z)

Perry Is Definitely Exiting the Administration

Several times in the past year, it has been reported that Secretary of Energy Rick Perry was quitting his post. It makes sense, he never really wanted the job anyhow, and when he was running for president, energy was one of the departments he wanted to abolish. Furthermore, before accepting the job, he had no idea what the department did. He thought it was about traveling around the world selling American oil and gas to overseas customers. Actually, it is about overseeing America's nuclear arsenal.

Every time there was a story about him quitting, Perry denied it. On Thursday, the denials finally ended, as Perry and Donald Trump both confirmed that the Secretary is a short-timer (though his exact date of departure was not announced).

It's not clear whom Trump will nominate in Perry's stead, though Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette is understood to be the favorite. Of much greater interest is the timing of Perry's departure. He appears to be deeply enmeshed in the Ukraine mess, and has already been summoned by House Democrats to testify. Does his resignation mean that he's prepared to turn traitor and give up the goods? Or does it mean that he's heading for the hills, and he wants to spend his time and energy on digging his heels in? The former seems more likely but, either way, we'll know by the end of the month, by which time he will have either abided by or ignored the two subpoenas he's already received. (Z)

2020 G-7 Summit "Awarded" to Trump Doral

In 2020, for the seventh time, the United States will serve as host for the annual G-7 economic summit. The Trump administration has conducted an exhaustive review of potential sites for the gathering, and after much thought and consideration has chosen...Trump National in Doral, Florida. And note that this wasn't just a case of the worker bees doing whatever they could to please the queen bee (king bee?). At his press conference announcing the site (see above), Mick Mulvaney said that the President personally intervened in the decision-making process.

At this point, let us take a look at the locations used the previous six times the U.S. played host:

Year President Site
1976 Gerald R. Ford Dorado Beach Resort, San Juan, Puerto Rico
1983 Ronald Reagan Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia
1990 George H. W. Bush Rice University, Houston, Texas
1997 Bill Clinton Denver Public Library, Denver, Colorado
2004 George W. Bush Sea Island Resort, Sea Island, Georgia
2012 Barack Obama Camp David, Emmitsburg, Maryland

Is there any chance whatsoever that the site would be a Trump resort if anyone other than Donald Trump were president?

Now, let us recall the text of the Constitution's "domestic emoluments" clause (Art. II, Sec. 1):

The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.

If Trump were planning a major domestic event at the Doral, say the Republican National Convention, that alone would clearly violate the above clause. But because numerous foreign leaders and their staffs will be there, he will be receiving emoluments from foreign governments as well. As you might have heard, the Constitution also frowns on the president taking goodies from foreign governments. Since he hasn't actually gotten any loot yet, it is doubtful that any articles of impeachment drawn up this year will cite either clause, but if Trump wins reelection, the House could impeach him in 2021 for violating one or both emoluments clauses.

What we have here is an executive branch, led by President Donald Trump, steering tens of millions of dollars of business to a private corporation owned by businessman Donald Trump. Is there any scenario, short of Trump heading over to the U.S. Mint and helping himself to a bag of money, that would more clearly violate this clause? When announcing the decision, Mulvaney was asked about this, and said, "I've heard that before...I would simply ask you all to consider the possibility that Donald Trump's brand is already strong enough on its own." The careful reader will note that Mulvaney did not actually deny the underlying criticism, namely that Trump is self-dealing.

This story is remarkable on a number of levels. First, that Trump cares so little about appearances (or so much about money) that he would even attempt this. Imagine if Hillary Clinton were president, and she chose the Clinton Foundation headquarters as the venue. Sean Hannity's head would explode, and Rush Limbaugh would have a coronary. Second, that—as a fellow who's already enmeshed in more scandals than you can shake a stick at, and who is staring impeachment in the face—Trump would so casually add another potentially impeachable offense to the list. Quid pro quos with Ukraine aren't explicitly written into the Constitution, but, as noted above, emoluments violations sure are. And finally, that Trump has the temerity to attack other folks (e.g., Joe and Hunter Biden) for being corrupt because they have allegedly profited from their connections to the federal government. People who live in glass houses? (Z)

Biden's Biggest Problem? It Might Be Money

Joe Biden's presidential campaign has definitely hit a rocky patch. Whether it is fair or not (reasonable people can disagree), he's taking some damage from his son's professional ventures. His performance in the fourth debate has generally gotten lackluster reviews. And Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has either caught up to him as co-frontrunner, or has surpassed him as sole frontrunner, depending on whom you ask.

However, it may well be that none of these things is his biggest worry. Oct. 1 marked the end of Q3, while Oct. 15 was the deadline for campaigns to file their latest financial reports with the FEC. We already knew that the Biden campaign took in far less money than the campaigns of Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend). But now we know that the Biden campaign has been burning through money at a prodigious rate, and so spent nearly $2 million more than it took in during Q3. The result is that Biden 2020 has just $9 million in the bank, as compared to $33.7 million for Sanders, $25.7 million for Warren, and $23.4 million for Buttigieg.

This is bad news for Biden for two reasons. The first problem is that something is clearly wrong with his fundraising. Maybe he's not generating enough enthusiasm, or maybe he's trying to do 20th-century-style fundraising (bundlers, fancy dinners for Democratic pooh-bahs) as part of a 21st-century campaign (Warren and Sanders, for example, get most of their money in small amounts and online).

The second problem is that while it's plausible to run a presidential campaign somewhat on the cheap these days (see Trump 2016), there are limits to how far a candidate can go with that. There's a very decent chance that the nomination will be all-but-decided by Wednesday, March 4 (i.e., the day after Super Tuesday). By then, citizens of 20 states and territories will have cast their ballots, including the mega-states of California, Texas, and North Carolina. If current trends hold, Biden will be competitive in Iowa and Nevada, will lose badly in New Hampshire, and will win South Carolina in a walk. That will mean that he will really need a strong performance on Super Tuesday. And doing well on Super Tuesday is going to require some serious ground game in the states that vote on March 3, and some amount of advertising. If Biden is down to seven figures in the bank before having mounted any sort of campaign outside the first four states and before having purchased any advertising, how is he going to avoid being swamped by the Sanders, Warren (and possibly Buttigieg) campaigns?

If Biden goes 1-for-4 or 2-for-4 in the early primary/caucus states, and then finishes in third place on Super Tuesday, he'll be in trouble. Not only will a "Democrats have lost interest in Joe Biden" narrative take hold, but it won't be so easy to catch up to any candidate whose delegate total is larger than his. The next date that has a lot of Biden-friendly states is April 28 (when Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Rhode Island, among others, will vote). But by then, 40 states and territories will have voted and 70% of the delegates will already have been awarded, so it could be too late.

Undoubtedly, Team Biden knows all of this, and is going to spend Q4 ginning up the moneymaking machine. But will they be successful? The fundraising numbers that will come out sometime between Jan. 1 and Jan. 15 of next year are going to be very interesting, indeed. (Z)

Would a Biden Collapse Create a Lane for Another Centrist?

Politico's David Siders, taking notice of some of the Biden-related issues we've noted above, suggests that there could now be an opportunity for some other candidate to overtake him in the "centrist" lane. "It kind of seems like Biden's collapsing under the weight of his own operation," said one Democratic consultant who spoke to Siders.

Let us imagine, for a moment, that this supposition is correct. If so, which of the other Democrats might have a chance to supplant Biden as the centrist/establishment candidate? Here are the arguments for and against each of the folks who might possibly claim that mantle. Note that we are excluding anyone who was not even able to make the fourth debate, as well as anyone who has tacked too far left to plausibly sell themselves as the "centrist" candidate (Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang, and Tom Steyer):

  • Why it could be Pete Buttigieg: As noted above, he's flush with cash. He's also smart, charming, and comes from a midwestern rust-belt city, which should give him a leg up in the key states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

  • Why it won't be: Are blue-collar, non-college white men really ready to vote for a gay candidate who is barely old enough to be eligible for the job? More significantly, Buttigieg has serious issues with black voters, a key centrist Democratic constituency. Oh, and he's not really all that centrist. He was for Medicare for All before he was against it.

  • Why it could be Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA): She was once a rising star, and presumably could be again. Her money situation is actually a fair bit better than Biden's. And if she can get some momentum, and then do well in her home state of California, that could mean a very good Super Tuesday performance.

  • Why it won't be: Her prosecutorial record means that black voters are skeptical about her, while her hometown of San Francisco and her embrace of some lefty issues (like the Green New Deal) means that many independent-leaning voters are skeptical about her.

  • Why it could be Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN): She's been doing well in the debates, and seems to actually answer the questions put to her more often than any other candidate. Her Midwestern roots and record of substantive accomplishment mean she's as Biden-like as anyone.

  • Why it won't be: She's attracted very little support outside of the Midwest and, in fact, very little outside of Minnesota. She's absolutely flatlining with black and Latino voters. And some voters are put off by her brusque manner and the allegations that she's abusive to staffers.

  • Why it could be Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ): If you could design a Democratic presidential candidate—say, if someone invented a computer program called CandidateCAD—you would probably end up with Booker. He's charismatic, has a brilliant academic résumé, was very successful as mayor of Newark, has been a solid Senator, is black, and has just enough leftist in him to appeal to the progressive wing.

  • Why it won't be: Though many analysts think that ethnic voters gravitate to a candidate of their ethnicity almost automatically, it's not true, and Booker's support among black voters is anemic. Further, his campaign seems to be less a campaign, and more a reiteration of the same six bits of Booker trivia. Did you know, for example, that he's a vegan? Or that he deliberately moved to the poorest part of Newark so he could see what it's like there for himself? If you didn't, it means you haven't been watching the debates, because he's mentioned these things approximately ten thousand times.

  • Why it could be Beto O'Rourke: Six months ago, he would have been the obvious Biden alternative. He's got charisma by the boatload, appeals to ethnic and blue-collar voters, is good-looking, and has a reasonable chance of making inroads in states that went red in 2016. He's running as the second coming of Bobby Kennedy.

  • Why it won't be: He's now acquired a reputation as an empty suit, and that will be hard to shake. The Party pooh-bahs aren't happy that he's willing to gamble a winnable senate race so that he can tilt at presidential windmills. And given that he's endorsed the possibility of seizing guns, a sizable portion of the centrist and independent voters are forever lost to him.

  • Why it could be Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI): She would probably get more Republican votes than anyone else in the field, at least in part because she sounds like a Republican more often than she sounds like a Democrat.

  • Why it won't be: She has done poorly in the debates, and seems in general to be a weak public speaker (which is presumably why she's assiduously avoided debates while running for office in Hawaii). The Party establishment will not be happy to back a candidate that has consistently attacked them. And too often, she seems petulant. People who want a petulant president already have a candidate to vote for.

  • Why it could be Julián Castro: He's associated with Barack Obama, having served in the Obama cabinet, and could plausibly flip Texas, which is just as good as flipping the rust-belt states of Pennsylvania and Michigan. He is Latino.

  • Why it won't be: As with black voters and Booker/Harris, Latino voters are not actually gravitating toward Castro. In fact, he's generated little enthusiasm among any segment of Democratic voters, and it's hard to see how that might change.

Our best guess is that if Biden does falter, the line to replace him looks like this: (1) Buttigieg, (2) Klobuchar, (3) Gabbard, and (4) one of the others. That said, this is mostly a thought exercise. The odds are that, even if Biden does not claim the nomination, he remains viable up to and beyond Super Tuesday. At that point, even if he jumps ship, there just won't be enough time and delegates left for an alternate centrist to claim the nomination. Of course, there could be something that forces him out of the race before that, though, whether a scandal, or an "act of God" (health problems, etc.), or something else, so you never know. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct17 Elijah Cummings Has Passed Away
Oct17 The Parade of Witnesses Goes Marching On
Oct17 Trump's Inner Circle Could Be in Big Trouble
Oct17 Trump Is Betting That Isolationism Is a Winner
Oct17 This Is Not Normal Behavior
Oct17 ProPublica: Trump May Have Committed Financial Fraud
Oct17 Senate Democrats Will Force Republicans to Vote on Health Care
Oct17 Ohio Debate Takeaways
Oct16 Democratic Debate Tour Stops in Ohio
Oct16 Kent: "Three Amigos" Ran Ukraine Policy
Oct16 No Formal Vote on Impeachment Inquiry, for Now
Oct16 Ocasio-Cortez to Endorse Sanders
Oct16 Aspiring Collins Challenger Is Raking It In
Oct15 Fiona Hill Piqued By Giuliani's Behavior
Oct15 Trump Sanctions Turkey
Oct15 Trump Reportedly Wanted to Release His Tax Returns in 2013
Oct15 Administration Loses another Border Wall Ruling
Oct15 Hunter Biden Tries to Quell the Storm
Oct15 Warren Gets Three Good Polls on the Eve of Debate #4
Oct15 Will the Democrats Find New Ground to Cover Tonight?
Oct14 It's a Real Mess in Syria
Oct14 Schiff: Whistleblower May Not Testify
Oct14 Tomorrow's Debate Could Be Crucial
Oct14 CBS Early States Poll: Warren 31%, Biden 25%, Sanders 17%
Oct14 NBC Poll: 55% Want Impeachment Inquiry
Oct14 If Trump Isn't the 2020 GOP Nominee, Who Might Be?
Oct14 OutFoxed?
Oct14 Warren Buys Facebook Ads to Show the Need for "Censorship"
Oct14 General Election Debate Schedule Is Now Available
Oct14 Louisiana Gubernatorial Race Will Go to a Runoff
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