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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Is Dead
      •  Trump Organization May Sell Washington Hotel
      •  This Is Why Trump Doesn't Go Out in Public
      •  We Now Have a Trump Tweet Baseline
      •  Show Me the Money
      •  Rep. Katie Hill to Resign
      •  Details for Sixth Democratic Debate Announced

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Is Dead

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS, was the most wanted man in the world. Following nearly five months of planning, Army Delta Force commandos were able to corner al-Baghdadi in a tunnel on Saturday. Rather than be taken alive, he detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and three (of his?) children.

Various media outlets have described Donald Trump's handling of this news as "Trumpish," "Trumpian," and "Trumplike." Consider, for example, the headline from Politico, "A quintessential Trumpian performance marks the death of the most-wanted terrorist." Forgive us, but we're going to skip the euphemisms and jump straight to "vulgar" and "tacky" as we describe how Trump conducted the announcement. Keeping in mind that even if justice was done, and even if the United States and the world are ultimately better off than they were two days ago, a great act of violence has been committed, and four people (including three innocent children) are dead. Just out of general respect for the sanctity of life, this sort of situation calls for a measured, somber tone. Consider, for example, how Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden:

Or, to take another (somewhat similar) example, George W. Bush's advisory that Saddam Hussein had been captured:

Trump, as he is wont to do, turned the whole thing into a reality show. Late Saturday, more than 7 hours before making the announcement, the President actually sent out a teaser on Twitter:

When Trump finally did break the news, he had a smirk, and a tone that can only be described as boastful. He unquestionably relished it, particularly the opportunity to get into gory details about the killing and the specific circumstances of al-Baghdadi's death. For example, Trump said: "He died like a coward. He was whimpering, screaming and crying. Baghdadi and the losers who worked for him...were very frightened puppies." To continue being blunt, not only is this low-class, it's also unwise, as such bragging could very well serve to throw fuel on the ISIS fire.

Similarly, Trump broke with past precedent in deciding not to advise leading Democrats of the raid until after it was over. The President's explanation was that he feared that leaks from the Democratic side of the aisle could put the whole operation in danger. Translation: "If you want to hold closed-door hearings and keep secrets from me, then fine, I can keep secrets from you, too." This was also a mistake, in our view. Trump had an opportunity to look statesmanlike while still getting all the credit for al-Baghdadi's elimination. Instead, he chose the path that makes him look childish and petulant. On top of that, if something had gone wrong, the President could have shared some of the blame with others who were in the loop. But by limiting the loop solely to members of Team Trump, then Team Trump would have owned the blame 100% if, say, a dozen American soldiers had been killed.

Of course, the long-term question is whether or not this will help Trump at the polls. Past precedent suggests it will not. It's a long time until the elections, and there are going to be a million news stories between now and then to capture people's attention and affect their votes. Further, decapitating the ISIS snake isn't going to kill the snake itself; a new leader will emerge soon, and he may perpetrate high-profile acts of violence to announce his arrival. And, perhaps most obviously, the Osama bin Laden news gave Barack Obama a small polling bump in the weeks thereafter, but it dissipated quickly.

On the other hand, Syria policy is a particular Achilles' heel for Trump, particularly in the last week, and the death of al-Baghdadi is going to make it seem as if things are going well on that front. That may not be a correct way of thinking, but some people are going to think that way nonetheless, with strong encouragement from the President and his friends in the media. On top of that, Trump has no compunction whatsoever about claiming credit for things that aren't actually accomplishments of his (for example, the Mexican wall). The death of al-Baghdadi is an actual accomplishment, and there aren't so many of those, so the President and his supporters are going to be making hay out of it for a long, long time.

Our best guess is that this will fire up the base, but that it won't impress too many people beyond the base, at least not for more than a week or two. But that's just our best guess. (Z)

Trump Organization May Sell Washington Hotel

As this weekend was getting underway, the news broke that the Trump Organization is investigating the possibility of selling its Washington hotel, which is one of the crown jewels of the presidential real estate empire. "Since we opened our doors, we have received tremendous interest in this hotel and as real estate developers, we are always willing to explore our options," said Eric Trump.

It goes without saying that the sons of Trump would not make such a major decision without input from pops. The big question that everyone is asking is: "Why now?" There are three pretty good theories:

  • "Honoring" the Emoluments Clause: We remain skeptical that the Trump family has suddenly had a "come to Jesus" moment on emoluments, and is going to start bending over backwards to avoid profiting off the presidency. However, if they fear legal repercussions on this front, then it is this hotel where they are most exposed. Officials from at least 29 foreign countries have visited, held events, or rented rooms there, the same is true of 28 of 53 Senate Republicans, and a staggering 25 of the 33 folks who have served in the President's cabinet. Cutting the Trump International D.C. loose would allow the Trump Organization to say they were doing their best to honor the emoluments clause, and would also take away a fair bit of the evidence that might be used in a prosecution—or an impeachment trial.

  • Abusing the Emoluments Clause: Trump International D.C. is housed in a government building, and benefits from the terms of a very generous government lease. The value of the hotel may never be higher than right now, when a purchaser would be buying from the guy who not only owns the hotel, but who oversees the lease and the building.

  • Hurting for Cash: Unless they have absolutely no other choice, the Trump Organization isn't selling Trump Tower in New York or Mar-a-Lago. That makes Trump International D.C. the shiniest jewel in the empire that is still expendable. If the business is doing badly financially (and that's the word on the street), selling Trump International D.C. might be the best way to fix the balance sheet.

These explanations are not mutually exclusive; all three could be true. We may never know the truth for sure, unless Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg writes a tell-all book at some point. That said, if the Trump Organization really is in financial trouble, it could cause the President to do some...interesting things in the next year. Further, if the public evidence of Trump Organization struggles begins to mount, it could significantly undermine one of the key elements of Trump's appeal—his business success—particularly if the tax returns are also made public, and also paint a picture of a man who's not actually that successful. (Z)

This Is Why Trump Doesn't Go Out in Public

Donald Trump does not like to appear at public events, unless they are things like rallies, which are overwhelmingly stacked with his supporters. The Kennedy Center Honors, the White House Press Correspondents' Dinner, and other occasions like those don't offer that kind of crowd. So, the President has skipped out, despite the fact that the last 10 fellows to occupy the Oval Office never missed them.

This year's World Series features the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals. Consequently, three games were played in Washington, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Given that every single president since William Howard Taft has made it to at least one baseball game while in office, it was going to be pretty difficult for Trump to skip it. So, he announced that he would be present for game five, which was played Sunday night.

Trump did what he could to protect himself from the boo-birds. He only chose game five after the Nationals had won the first two games. He likely hoped, though this was dashed, that the Series would end in a sweep. In other words, there was at least some chance that the President could say, "I really wanted to be a sport and go, but darn, the Series ended in four games and I had tickets to game five." Once it was clear that game five was a go, Trump stuck with his attendance plans, but he declined the usual honor of throwing out the first pitch. That, instead, went to celebrity chef José Andrés. Andrés is a notable Trump critic; was he chosen for that reason? Probably not, but it's not impossible.

Anyhow, the President's efforts to protect himself from the boo-birds did not work out in the end. At one point, the President was shown on the jumbotron, and the crowd responded with boos and chants of "Lock him up!" Here's the video:

It's not a great look for a president to assiduously avoid public events, particularly those that are traditional for the holder of the office. But, it's an even worse look to be booed and hissed. So, that is why Trump (probably wisely) controls the narrative as best he can, either by skipping things entirely, or by doing things like giving a speech at a historically black college, but telling the actual students to stay in their dorm rooms (which happened last week). (Z)

We Now Have a Trump Tweet Baseline

Donald Trump is under an unusually high amount of stress these days. And one of his primary stress relievers is sending out tweets. So, it is not unexpected that his output on the social media platform has been unusually high for the last couple of months, even by his usual standards. On Saturday, he sent out this...unusual tweet:

As you can see, it's about as empty as a tweet can be, as it's only four periods. And yet, it got more than 12,000 comments, 14,000 retweets, and 50,000 likes.

It is unlikely that all (or even most) of these numbers represent actual human interaction (especially the retweets and likes). There are all sorts of bots like this one, that can be configured to automatically like or retweet messages from a particular account. What this all suggests is that when trying to judge what kind of engagement a Presidential tweet actually got, you would do well to subtract the first 5,000 (or so) comments, the first 10,000 (or so) retweets, and the first 40,000 (or so) likes. (Z)

Show Me the Money

OpenSecrets has gone through the FEC filings for the 2020 election, the final versions of which were released on Sunday. They aggregated the total take for all candidates for president, Senate, and the House. The numbers show some interesting things.

First up, presidential candidates:

Party Number of Candidates Total Take, This Cycle
Democratic 27 $454,250,041
Republican 3 $167,224,534

Obviously, the Republican total is driven primarily by one fellow, while the Democratic total is being driven substantially by half a dozen folks (some of whom are writing checks to themselves, either from their personal bank accounts or from their Senate accounts). It's also the case that a particularly enthusiastic Democratic voter could plausibly have contributed $75,600 (27 x $2,800) to that $454 million take, while an enthusiastic Republican voter could have contributed, at most, $8,400 (3 x $2,800). Still, the blue team's candidates are nearly tripling up Trump, despite the fact that the President has the money-making machine running at full throttle. That probably speaks to voter enthusiasm, and it definitely suggests that Democratic fears the President will be able to outspend his opponent are overblown.

Now, the two chambers of Congress:

Caucus Number of Candidates Total Take, This Cycle Average Per Candidate
House Democrats 1,042 $244,436,183 $234,584
House Republicans 991 $198,011,907 $199,810
Senate Democrats 163 $135,690,794 $832,459
Senate Republicans 204 $129,509,920 $634,853

The GOP can't be terribly happy about those numbers, as they are lagging behind the Democrats everywhere. In particular, it is not good for them that they have considerably more candidates for the Senate, including considerably more incumbents, and yet they are still trailing the blue team. This almost certainly speaks to voter enthusiasm, particularly given how early in the cycle we are. Congressional Republicans also have to be concerned about the extent to which the President will happily cannibalize their fundraising, something that is already happening. (Z)

Rep. Katie Hill to Resign

Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) had a rough week, as it was alleged that she'd had sexual relationships with one or two of her underlings, which is a no-no, given the power dynamics involved. On top of that, a British tabloid and also a right-wing website published "revenge porn" photos of Hill that showed, among other things, an iron cross tattoo in an area of her body she expected to remain private. On Sunday, the Representative decided that her situation had become untenable, and so resigned. Though she did not specify the date her resignation would be effective, staffers said that it could be as soon as Nov. 1.

This means that two Democratic-held seats are now open, and both will be the subject of special elections to be held in early 2020. Given the various setbacks that the GOP has suffered in the House in general, and in special elections in particular, the red team would really like to win one of the two. Elijah Cummings' now-former district (MD-07) is 60% black, and has a PVI of D+26, so it isn't going to be that one. That leaves Hill's district, CA-25. The good news for the Republicans is that it has a PVI of even, which theoretically means they should be very competitive there. That is particularly true if they convince Steve Knight, who represented the district for two terms before being knocked off by Hill, to try to get his old job back. That said, Hill trounced Knight by 9 points, Hillary Clinton won the district by 7 points in 2016, and that part of California (just north of Los Angeles) is trending Democratic. So, that PVI might be a little bit outdated. Still, the GOP is going to pull out all the stops, since a win—particularly in California—would be a big feather in their caps. (Z)

Details for Sixth Democratic Debate Announced

The sixth Democratic debate will be held on Dec. 19, which seems awfully close to Christmas, but there it is. On Sunday, the DNC announced key details for the debate, including that it will be hosted by PBS NewsHour and Politico, and that the venue will be one that (Z) has a passing familiarity with, namely UCLA. The format and moderators will be announced at a later date.

Anyone who has been paying attention will correctly guess that the Democrats increased the thresholds to qualify for the debate...but not by much. The debate-six cutoffs are: (1) 200,000 unique donors, with a minimum of 800 donors in 20 states, territories or Washington, D.C.; and (2) receiving at least 4-percent support in four qualifying polls of primary voters nationally or in the four early-voting states, or else receiving 6-percent support in two polls of the four early-voting states. The odds are good that all of the folks scheduled who will make the stage in November have already crossed the December fundraising threshold, and if they haven't, they soon will. The 4% polling requirement will be the real decider; if we judge based on current trends, then Joe Biden, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) will make it, and that will be it. It's possible that Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), Andrew Yang, and Tom Steyer could make it, but they would need some good luck and for a lot of early-state polls to be done in the next month (particularly of Iowa), because none of them are getting the national-poll numbers they would need. Anyone outside those eight would need a miracle. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct27 Sunday Mailbag
Oct26 Saturday Q&A
Oct25 Trump Administration Did More than Withhold Aid
Oct25 Democrats Strategize on Impeachment...
Oct25 ...And So Do Republicans
Oct25 Barr Is Paying Dividends for Trump
Oct25 Warren Grapples with Funding Medicare for All
Oct25 Biden Will Accept Super PAC Money
Oct25 Sanders Unveils a Weedy Proposal
Oct25 Klobuchar Makes November Cut
Oct25 Ryan Drops Out
Oct24 Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures?
Oct24 Zelensky Knew the Score Well Before Trump Called
Oct24 Trump Capitulates Completely on Syria
Oct24 The Great Wall of...Colorado?
Oct24 Is This What Trump's Lawyers Are Telling Him?
Oct24 Trump Looking Weak in Many Swing States, Against Many Democrats
Oct24 If You Really Like Dick's, You May Get Your Dream Candidate
Oct23 The Impeachment Drums Are Beating Louder
Oct23 Trump Says He's Being Lynched
Oct23 Trump Isn't Going to Like Either of These Books
Oct23 Mnuchin, Conway Under Consideration as Mulvaney Replacements
Oct23 Reports of Joe Biden's Demise May Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Oct23 Senate Map Gets More Wide Open by the Day
Oct23 Is the Trump Organization Embarrassed To Be the TRUMP Organization?
Oct22 Democrats Don't Want Impeachment to be a Turkey
Oct22 Supreme Court Sustains Political Gerrymanders Yet Again
Oct22 Trump's Hands Are Tied on DHS
Oct22 State Department Concludes that Hillary Clinton Did Not Break the Law with Her E-mails
Oct22 You Can't Make This Up
Oct22 Trump Likely to Lose a Close Ally...
Oct22 ...But He Gets to Keep A Nemesis
Oct21 What's the Current Version of the Administration's Story?, Part I: The Quid Pro Quo
Oct21 What's the Current Version of the Administration's Story?, Part II: The G-7 and Doral
Oct21 Life Gets Harder When You're the Frontrunner
Oct21 Gabbard and Clinton Take Off the Gloves
Oct21 Felons May Get to Vote in Florida, After All
Oct21 Mattis Hits Trump Where it Hurts
Oct21 Another Apostate Will Leave the House
Oct20 Sunday Mailbag
Oct19 Saturday Q&A
Oct18 Mike Pence Practices "The Art of the Deal"
Oct18 "Mick the Knife" Stabs Trump in the Back
Oct18 Sondland Points the Finger at Giuliani
Oct18 Perry Is Definitely Exiting the Administration
Oct18 2020 G-7 Summit "Awarded" to Trump Doral
Oct18 Biden's Biggest Problem? It Might Be Money
Oct18 Would a Biden Collapse Create a Lane for Another Centrist?
Oct17 Elijah Cummings Has Passed Away
Oct17 The Parade of Witnesses Goes Marching On