Trump Will No Longer Host G7 at His Resort
Trump Weakened on Every Front
British Government Asks for EU Delay
Billionaire Governor Received Farm Subsidies
Sanders Returns to the Campaign Trail
Warren Backers Want More Details on Health Plan
A fair dose of impeachment-related stuff, but not so much as the last two weeks!
Q: I've read several articles and heard comments on news reports claiming that
it's extremely likely that President Trump will win the 2020 election and (to quote an article I
just read on The Hill website) "could easily surpass those results in 2020," referring to the
electoral college numbers from the 2016 election. These predictions are based solely on economic
factors (i.e., the latest Moody's models).
I know that economic conditions are a very strong motivator for a lot of people, but at the same time there are so many other factors at play in this particular time and place. The polls you cite and that we see in other reporting regularly contradict this Moody's model. I have to ask is it statistically accurate to ignore them all in favor of pure economic self-interest as a predictor of behavior? Should we be afraid, very afraid? D.L.O., Canaan, Connecticut
A: Glad you asked, because those articles—which are pretty much all based on the report Moody's issued last week—drive (Z) nuts. Let's start with some general criticisms we have of any such models:
- Presidential elections happen only once every four years. That means that it takes a long time
to build up any sort of data set. And a long time is, by definition, a long time. For example,
Moody's has been predicting presidential elections for 40 years. Do we really imagine the
circumstances of 1976 or 1980 are instructive today?
- On a similar note, basing one's predictions on any general factor (the economy, foreign affairs,
whatever) requires making the assumption that any circumstances specific to the election don't
matter. Do we imagine that Ronald Reagan's successful wind-down of the Cold War, or George W. Bush's
endless scandals in his second term, or John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate, or
James Comey's re-opening the e-mail investigation were irrelevant to those elections? By the way,
historians have a name for this concept—that key events, happening at key times, are often
decisive. It's called "contingency."
- It's actually not that hard to build up a pretty good record in predicting presidential elections, because a lot of presidential elections aren't close. In order to compare apples to apples, political scientists have developed a measurement called "normalized margin of victory." And by that standard, the elections of 1980, 1984, 1988, 2008, and 2012 were not close. Moody's has gone 9-for-10 since 1976. However, since five of those 10 were gimmes, that really means they've gone 4-for-5 on the tough ones. Not bad, but if you took the five gimmes, and then flipped a coin for the other five, you'd get 7.5-for-10 on average.
And now, some specific criticisms of Moody's:
- We are still well over a year from the election. Anything that you think is relevant to
predicting what will happen in November, including the economy, could change dramatically between
now and then.
- Moody's created its model because of the conventional wisdom, which emerged in the 1940s, that
voters are primarily motivated by their pocketbooks. It's possible that is true, and it's possible
that it was true but isn't anymore, and it's possible that it was never actually true. If 2016 had
been about the economy, then Hillary Clinton should have won, since there was a Democrat in the
White House and the economy was booming. However, Donald Trump and the GOP, capitalizing on trends
that had been building for years, managed to make the election about corruption and the culture
wars. From that vantage point, it seems that maybe the economy isn't so decisive anymore (or, at
very least, that it won't be as long as Donald Trump is on the ticket). Incidentally, the one
election in the last ten that Moody's got wrong? 2016.
- The Moody's report came with a giant caveat, one that did not get repeated as often as it should
have. Here it is, from their Twitter account:
That's a rather sizable qualifier, don't you think? In fact, we (and everyone else) have been saying the exact same thing: The key to 2020 is turnout. The only difference is that when we say it, we don't include a bunch of mumbo jumbo about the economy in order to make our opinion look more scientific.
So no, Moody's opinion is no reason to be afraid. Donald Trump certainly could win in 2020; nobody will make the mistake of dismissing him the way they did in 2016. But trying to reach firm conclusions on that point while relying on economic data that will be more than a year old when the election takes place is not a lot better than trying to reach firm conclusions based on astrology or palmistry. Never forget the rule named after the Washington football team: When they win the weekend before the election, the incumbent party wins, and when they lose the weekend before the election, the incumbent party loses. That "model," which some people took very seriously, was accurate for 16 straight presidential elections, from 1936 to 2000.
Q: In your
on a collapsing Biden campaign potentially sending voters toward other centrist candidates, you set
the axiom of Yang not being centrist.
I'm curious—What causes you to label Yang as non-centrist? As the one candidate putting the most emphasis on utilizing capital markets for efficient wealth redistribution, I fear too many people miss the whole capital markets and pro-business aspects of the Freedom Dividend and lump him in the far left with those that want to redistribute wealth via a wealth tax. Andrew Yang's policies paint him as far more of a realist than other candidates.
I would like to see fairer coverage of a campaign that is trending upward in both polls (5% and up now, 9% in some states) and donations ($10M last quarter) and am genuinely curious why it seems many longtime political analysts seem to think an(other) political outsider cannot make it to the White House. M.W., Austin, TX
A: We thought carefully about our choices before we wrote that piece. As you have probably noticed, the voting public does not generally do subtlety and nuance. Even if the principles behind Yang's ideas are centrist, his actual policies (or his actual policy, we should really say, since he has only one) is so far outside the mainstream that there is simply no way he could plausibly lay claim to the centrist lane. Keep in mind that the voters that Joe Biden is after tend to be the least educated segments of the Democratic party (some estimates suggest that 90% of his supporters have no college degree). We just don't see them getting behind someone whose ideas are rooted in pretty sophisticated economic theory, and whose support so far is drawn almost entirely from the most-educated segments of the Party.
As to your concluding thought, it is clear that a political outsider can make it to the White House, because Donald Trump just pulled off the trick. But if you take Yang's highest polling number (8% in an Emerson Poll from about a month ago), it's still lower than the number Donald Trump got in his very first poll as an official candidate (11% in the Economist/YouGov poll for June 20-22, 2015). And within two months of that, Trump was invariably getting numbers in the 20s and 30s. The point is that Yang's upward trajectory appears to be far too subtle for him to break through in the less than four months before Democratic voters start heading to the polls.
Q: Why do you continue to dismiss Pete Buttigieg as a non-candidate for
President? Today you said, "Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) continued to show that he has a
bright future in Democratic politics, even if this is not his year presidentially."
To me, that's an uncharacteristic opinion that is not supported by the facts. Mayor Pete continues to poll in fourth place and is the only candidate, after the top three, that regularly hits double digits in the polls. If/when Biden fades away, he is best positioned to take the mantel of "moderate" candidate. Both CNN and MSNBC made that same conclusions last night after the debate. More than one pundit called him the most impressive and there was speculation that this may ultimately turn into a Warren and Mayor Pete race.
I just don't get why you refuse to take him seriously as a candidate with a real chance at the nomination. He has an amazing ground game in Iowa and other early states and has a real chance of finishing in the top three. Not to mention his amazing fund raising numbers. Money is not going to be an issue for him anytime soon.
How can you not be seeing him? The last three Democrats to win the White House were all young and charming and exceptional speakers, just like Mayor Pete. What's up with the anti-Pete bias? Did he once kick your puppy? S.S., West Hollywood, CA
A: It would be a strange form of bias that would manifest this way, with us regularly giving rave reviews to his debate performances, predicting that he'll be a star in the future, and writing just yesterday that he's the candidate most likely to supplant Biden, should Biden come up short.
Here are Buttigieg's polling averages for every month since June:
The trendline is clear: Buttigieg came bursting out of the gate, and has settled in a little over 5% of the vote. The needle isn't moving.
Is there a version of events where Mayor Pete becomes a serious contender? Sure. But it would require Biden to fade very quickly (e.g., before Super Tuesday) and then would require Biden's voters to decide that Buttigieg is their best alternative (and, as we noted yesterday, black voters aren't thrilled with the Mayor). It is not probable that both of these things happen, and until at least the first one comes to pass (Biden fading), it would simply be inaccurate to put Buttigieg on the same level as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Frankly, this has all the hallmarks of a pre-presidential campaign. By which we mean, Buttigieg builds up his network and his name recognition, and then returns for another run as an early favorite, instead of as an insurgent. Think Ronald Reagan in 1976, for example.
Put in other words, Buttigieg is gaining national recognition and building an email list of donors. If Trump wins, Buttigieg is positioning himself to make 2024 an all-Hoosier show (Buttigieg vs. Pence). However, if a Democrat wins, Buttigieg will be far and away the Democrats' favorite to take on Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) in 2022. Either way, as we said, he has a bright future.
Q: To what extent is the Donald Trump/Mike Pence agreement with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to cede a Kurdish-controlled area to Turkey without consulting the Kurds reminiscent of the pre-World War II Munich Agreement in which France, Britain, and Italy agreed to cede a portion of Czechoslovakia to the German Nazis without consulting the Czechoslovakians? (Of course, the Kurds have been subjected to immediate slaughter, while the Czechoslovakians had to wait a while.) G.A., Berkeley, CA
A: It's certainly similar in the sense that the big powerful players in the drama did not bother to offer the weaker parties a seat at the table. Of course, that's been a recurring theme for centuries; the Treaty of Versailles leaps to mind as another obvious example, not to mention the vast number of agreements that governed the colonization of Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
There are some differences, though. Most importantly, it was quite clear that the alternative was war with Adolf Hitler, which France and Britain wanted to avoid at all costs. In the case of the Syrian Kurds, there were surely options available beyond a war between the U.S. and Turkey. Looked at from that vantage point, Trump's handling of the Kurds was a bit more shameful (or cowardly, if you like) than what Neville Chamberlain and Èdouard Daladier did at Munich.
Q: The Trump administration's decision to pick a Trump resort for the G-7 clearly appears to be a violation of the Emoluments Clause just on the funds that will be expended by the U.S. government. My query is about the other six nations that send leaders and delegations; is it customary for them to pay for their lodgings, etc., to attend a summit the U.S. is "hosting?" What about the 2012 summit held at Camp David? Also, isn't there an entirely different emoluments violation that could arise based on all the federal outlays for "improvements" that will probably need to be made to the Trump resort to host such a summit? S.B., Los Angeles, CA
A: Customarily, each country is responsible for bearing the costs of transporting and housing its delegation, while the host is generally responsible for providing meeting space, food, and security. In fact, Fox Business has an article right now discussing how much the various leaders can expect to pay for their rooms (hint: it won't be cheap). And note that it's not just the other members of the G-7; various international organizations (like the World Bank) are generally represented, and there are usually some additional countries invited as guests (for example, at the most recent G-7, Australia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Egypt, India, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, and Spain were invited).
When foreign dignitaries are hosted in a building owned by the federal government, by contrast, there is no charge because there's no charge for anyone. So, stays at the White House, or the Blair House, or Camp David are free of cost. Of course, those places cannot accommodate large numbers of guests, so a foreign government may still have to bear the cost of housing some of its delegation elsewhere.
And you are right that there are many different types of emoluments violations that look to be happening here. The money that Trump gets from the U.S. government. The money that Trump gets from other governments. The benefits that Trump gets from bringing Doral up to snuff for the meeting. And don't forget all of the free advertising that Trump will get, and is already getting. The President said on Friday that he will offer rooms, etc. "at cost," but he didn't offer much in the way of details as to what that might mean, and how that might be calculated. And even if he breaks even on the rooms, he will still get the government-funded improvements and the advertising.
Q: Could the other G-7 countries decide they aren't coming if the meeting is held at a Trump property? Could they come, but stay at other hotels in the area? If Trump is out of office by the time the meeting occurs, do you think they will switch the location or will it be too late and thus he'll make millions (and maybe even up the price, since he won't "feel" like it's a problem for him to make a profit)? D.L., East Lansing, MI
A: There is nothing that says foreign dignitaries have to stay in the place where the meetings are held. They could stay in Miami, or Cuba, or Antarctica for that matter. However, that would be impractical from a logistical standpoint, as it is very difficult to transport one entourage, much less six (or more). And reportedly, Trump Doral is particularly bad from a traffic/infrastructure standpoint. In addition to the logistical issues, it is probably not wise to begin a meeting with Donald Trump by pointedly snubbing him. So, this sort of boycott seems very unlikely.
If Trump is not in office by that time, you can bet your last dollar that the location will be changed. In fact, the last time the U.S. hosted, the event was supposed to be in Chicago. With only about a month to spare, it was moved to Camp David, which is already set up well for these sorts of things. So, that's probably where it would end up again, should there be another last-minute change of plans.
Q: According to reporting this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is expecting to do an impeachment trial right after Thanksgiving. I don't see that happening unless there are a significant number of Republicans who somehow decide to vote to impeach. Right now, there is nothing like that, and Trump's approval rating is a rock-solid 40+ percent. Do you think there is any chance McConnell could be right? If so, what would be the Democrats thinking? Are they really that close to "wrapping up" with so many subpoenas outstanding? C.F., Merrimack, NH
A: If the Democrats are really prepared to move that quickly, it would be because they want to strike while the iron is hot. People are talking about this Ukraine situation a lot, and the emotional tide appears to be running against the President. The longer the blue team waits, the greater the chance that things calm down, and that voters begin to buy into the administration's argument that this is no big deal and that this sort of thing happens all the time. For what it's worth, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pooh-poohed the notion that things would move so quickly, although he did so in fairly vague terms, and he is not Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). So, Schumer's statement is not definitive.
It is also entirely possible, and indeed likely, that McConnell has no insight into the Democrats' plans, and is just playing his own game of 3-D chess. All this talk of Thanksgiving and Christmas could put pressure on the Democrats to move forward quickly, which McConnell wants because he would like as much distance between the impeachment and the election as is possible. And even if the Democrats do not move quickly, McConnell will be able to reference this, and say that he really tried hard to be reasonable and take care of business, but the Democrats simply insisted on dragging this out, so they could do as much as possible to besmirch a great American like Donald Trump. Either way, McConnell benefits.
We don't think it is a major factor, but Democrats are hoping the Supreme Court quickly announces that yes, Congress has subpoena power, and that folks who ignore one are guilty of a felony. No case has gotten to the High Court yet, but several are moving slowly in that direction. Putting Rudy Giuliani on the stand would probably strengthen the case of impeachment, so not moving too quickly increases the chances of forcing some of the key witnesses to show up and talk.
Q: The White House released what everyone knows is a heavily edited version of the conversation between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky. We also know that the complete transcript of that call was moved to a coded server. Why hasn't that complete transcript been requested by any of the committees working the impeachment inquiry? It seems to me it would remove any doubt about the nature and purpose of that conversation, especially for those who are taking a wait and see stance on the inquiry. T.G., San Francisco, CA
A: There is some disagreement as to whether or not a fuller transcript was made, and whether or not it still exists. Assuming it was, and it does, then our guess is that the Democrats don't want to leave it out there for months that they want the transcript, since those are the circumstances under which things "accidentally" get erased (see Tapes, Nixon). The smarter approach—and leader-of-impeachment Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a former prosecutor, is very shrewd—is to use some other case to establish Democrats' right to subpoena this material. Then, they can make a lightning strike for the transcript. It might still "disappear," but the chances are less.
Q: Many times on your site, you claim or repeat the claim that Trump's damage to our alliances or foreign policy in general will be "irreparable" or at the very least "hard to undo." Has this happened with prior administrations? Might other world leaders simply conclude that the Trump Administration is a one-off aberration and perhaps reset things once he's out of office? For example, abandoning the Kurds seems like something only Trump would do. E.W., Skaneateles, NY
A: There is no analog to Trump among his predecessors. Significant international cooperation has only been viable for a little over a century, and it has only been the dominant mode in American foreign policy since the 1940s. Broadly speaking, each of the men who served since the early 20th century either maintained continuity with their predecessors, or else shifted gears slowly and carefully. There were none of these 180-degree turns on a dime that resulted in an overnight abandonment of 30 or 40 or 50 years of precedent.
The problem is that Trump might just be sui generis. But nobody, in the United States or abroad, can be sure of that. The lesson of the Trump years is that you cannot be 100% certain that the U.S. will abide by international agreements, long-term, because someone might get into the Oval Office and start abandoning them left and right. If the U.S. does not have a repeat of Trump-style isolationism and xenophobia for a couple of decades, then they can indeed dismiss him as an anomaly. Heck, if the next Republican president isn't like him, that would go a long way toward undoing the damage. But if, in 2021 or 2025, a well-meaning and apparently honest Democratic president proposes a worldwide agreement on global warming that is set to last for 50 years, can anyone really be certain that another Trump-type president won't come along and abandon it after 10 years? Not really.
Q: Why do the Democratic candidates keep talking about, and people keep being willing to listen to them talk about, new health care plans? Obama was able to pass the ACA because he had a 58-Democrat and 2-Independent supermajority in the Senate. In the absence of this there is no chance that any of these more radical plans will become law. Am I missing something, or is this just sound and fury signifying nothing? D.B., Mountain View, CA
A: You're right, a lot of the things that this year's (and previous years') presidential candidates have talked about are aspirational rather than realistic. That said, talking about one's ideal plan at least gives voters a sense of the candidate's vision and philosophy. And while Medicare for All seems unlikely at the moment, you never know when public opinion will shift. Support for Obamacare has grown pretty consistently, as has the belief that we still have serious issues in the healthcare system to repair. Those two notions could combine to cause a sizable majority to embrace an overhaul of the system.
To take a crude analogy, few would have thought in 1962 that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 could pass both Houses of Congress, with bipartisan majorities.
Q: Is the flag at the White House at half-staff? If not, why? E.S., Maine, NY
A: Presumably, you mean in honor of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD)? Yes it was, on Thursday and Friday, on the orders of the President. The U.S. Flag Code, not to mention longstanding tradition, dictates that the flag be flown at half-staff "upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession." It would have been a bad look if Trump had tried to ignore the custom. In addition, flags are flying at half staff in Maryland through next week, on the orders of Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD).
Q: To me, it makes no sense to have closed door hearings. If articles of
impeachment are to result, then the evidence will have to be made public—to the rest of the house,
to the Senate, to the American people. So why not have it open from the beginning?
A minor second question. Giuliani and others are claiming that the impeachment hearings are "unconstitutional." They might be unwise, politically motivated, all sorts of pejorative adjectives might be claimed, but is there any conceivable reading of the constitution by which they could be unconstitutional? M.B., Montreal, Canada
A: There are a number of reasons for this. In no particular order: (1) in case classified matters need to be discussed, (2) to encourage witnesses to speak more freely, and (3) to keep future witnesses from knowing exactly what was said, so as to make sure their stories are all in alignment. As you have noticed, the public still gets a pretty good sense of what was said. And they will presumably hear much more when and if an impeachment proceeding begins.
The argument that all of this is unconstitutional is, for lack of a better description, a political argument rather than a legal argument. There is no case to be made that this is not within the legal powers of Congress. What Trump & Co. are trying to argue is that he is the legally elected president, and impeaching him and removing him from office would overturn the election result, and that would be a violation of the Constitution. No court in the land would buy that argument, but some voters might. In fact, Trump's base absolutely will buy it.
Q: The Democrats say a chief reason for taking impeachment testimony behind closed doors is to keep witnesses on the Trump side from "adapting" their future testimony accordingly. This seems somewhat dubious, given that there are Republican staffers and members present who can easily tip off the Trump side. Is there anything to keep them from doing that? D.E., Baltimore, MD
A: You're right, it's possible for Republican members (and their aides) to leak. That's part of the reason that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was booted last week, because he's just the sort to try it. However, keeping the doors closed makes it a fair bit harder, at least. Especially since these folks are all talking for between 5 and 10 hours. That would be a lot of material for a future witness to absorb and adapt to, either via reading a leaked transcript, or hearing a verbal summary.
Q: Regarding your point about the Logan Act, isn't it legal for a private citizen to conduct foreign policy if he or she is doing it on behalf of the executive branch? Anna Chennault did the same with Republican administrations for decades. P.M., Currituck, NC
A: Truth be told, it's a longshot. Giuliani could certainly be indicted, and the argument would be that he was not doing the bidding of the federal government, he was doing the bidding of a private citizen who just so happens to be the sitting president of the United States. However, the Logan Act is over 200 years old (1799), and—as is characteristic of the legislation of that time—is worded in a rather imprecise fashion. In particular, it applies to nations with which the United States has "a dispute," and was meant to punish any private citizen who undermines the federal government's position in that dispute. It would be pretty hard to interpret that to cover what Giuliani did. In fact, it's kind of hard to interpret it to cover what anyone does. Only two people have ever been indicted on Logan Act violations, the last of those was 167 years ago (1852), and neither was convicted.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct18 "Mick the Knife" Stabs Trump in the Back
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