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‘He’s No Mr. Nice Guy’

Vindman Speaks, Trump & Co. Counterattack

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is a decorated war hero who was working in the White House on Ukraine policy, specifically helping them to get American weapons and materiel as part of their self-defense efforts. He was chosen for that task, in part, because he has Ukrainian heritage, his family having fled the then-communist Soviet state when he was a young child. Given what Vindman told the committees looking into impeachment on Tuesday, Donald Trump may be rethinking his previously stated position that white immigrants to the U.S. are fine and dandy with him.

Vindman was among the folks listening in on the infamous phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in real time. The thrust of the Colonel's testimony was that the whistleblower's report was correct in all essentials, and that the only thing that he (Vindman) would change is to add some of the details that were omitted from the public release, like the President's specifically referring to Burisma, the Ukrainian energy firm that Hunter Biden worked for. Vindman also said he is not the whistleblower, and refused to reveal that person's identity, even when Republican members of the committees pressed him to do so. He claimed that he does not even know who the whistleblower is.

If we're making a list of the witnesses who did the most damage to Trump, ambassador Bill Taylor is still probably #1, but Vindman is a close second. He was a literal witness to the call, meaning that the already-flimsy defense that "the whistleblower's account was hearsay" is now dead as a doornail. On top of that, between Taylor and Vindman, we now have witnesses at either end of the chain who are saying the same thing. And that's on top of the other three folks who have also declared that there was a quid pro quo. Also bad news for Trump is that Vindman is basically unassailable. He's got no known political leanings, and has served with distinction in both Democratic and Republican administrations. He is, as noted above, a decorated war hero. He's an American success story, who went from refugee to college graduate to highly respected military officer.

Just because Vindman is unassailable doesn't mean that Team Trump didn't try, though. It was Laura Ingraham, on Fox News, and former representative Sean Duffy, on CNN, who first got into the act, questioning Vindman's patriotism, and wondering if he might just be a double agent. Here's what Duffy said, for example:

It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don't know that he's concerned about American policy. We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from...he has an affinity for the Ukraine.

Once the President realized how much harm Vindman was doing to him, he got in on the act as well, taking to Twitter to savage the Colonel:

This went on for much of the rest of the day, both on the Presidential twitter feed, and on Fox. If all that Trump & Co. have are unsubstantiated personal attacks, we would suggest that says something about the substance of Vindman's remarks, and how unimpeachable they are. Or, alternatively, how impeachable they will make Trump.

For many Republicans—including some who oppose the impeachment inquiry—the smears of Vindman were a bridge too far. Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and John Thune (R-SD), Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), and other Republican members of Congress declared that it was unacceptable for the administration and its allies to treat someone of Vindman's high reputation like that. Of course, if he's a credible fellow, then that means that his testimony is credible. And if his testimony is credible, and he says there was definitely a quid pro quo, then where does that leave us? It's getting harder and harder to support the witnesses in the impeachment inquiry without supporting the inquiry itself. (Z)

Two Amigos May Have Some Explaining to Do

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, and U.S. Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker were the members of the Trump administration responsible for coordinating the Ukraine pressure campaign. In view of their work together on this task, they dubbed themselves the "Three Amigos," apparently unaware that in the movie that inspired the name, the Three Amigos are actually phonies.

Anyhow, Volker has already chatted with the House committees that are looking into Ukraine-ghazi, and apparently acquitted himself well. Sondland has chatted with them too, and acquitted himself not so well. In the hours after his testimony, those who heard it said that it was awfully self-serving, and that his memory "lapses" were awfully convenient. Now, particularly following Alexander Vindman's testimony (see above), House Democrats are using a much more serious descriptor: perjury. It is a crime to lie under oath, of course, which could put Sondland in a position of having to sing like a canary in order to save himself. At the very least, it is not helpful to the President that the witness that was most friendly to him also appears to have been the least honest.

Perry, meanwhile, has avoided a trip to the Hill thus far. However, he has publicly insisted that he never heard anybody connect the Biden family to the requests being made of Volodymyr Zelensky. Vindman said that is not true, and gave very specific details of a meeting where Perry surely heard the nitty-gritty of the quid pro quo. One of these days, the Secretary is going to be forced to talk to the committees that want to talk to him, whether he wants to or not. And this is going to be question 1A for him. He's going to have to think long and hard about what he's going to say, and exactly how willing he is to throw himself on his sword to protect Donald Trump. (Z)

Early State Polls Suggest Rocky Start for Joe Biden

In the last week, there have been new polls of three of the four early primary/caucus states: Iowa (by Civiqs), New Hampshire (by CNN/UNH), and South Carolina (by The Post and Courier). Let's put them side-by-side, along with the most recent poll of Nevada (by CNN). All candidates to poll above 1% in any of the four polls are included:

Candidate IA NH SC NV
Elizabeth Warren 28% 18% 19% 18%
Joe Biden 12% 15% 30% 22%
Bernie Sanders 18% 21% 13% 22%
Pete Buttigieg 20% 10% 9% 4%
Amy Klobuchar 4% 5% 3% 1%
Tom Steyer 3% 3% 5% 4%
Kamala Harris 3% 3% 11% 5%
Tulsi Gabbard 2% 5% 3% 1%
Andrew Yang 2% 5% 4% 3%
Cory Booker 1% 2% 3% 2%
Beto O'Rourke 1% 2% 1% 0%

Clearly, the trendlines are not headed in the right direction for Biden. He's in third in two polls, and he is in danger of dropping to second or third in another (which just so happens to be the oldest of the four polls, so maybe he already has). If he goes 1-for-4 in the early states, that will not be good for him heading into Super Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Sanders appears to have erased any damage done by his heart attack, and has rebounded everywhere. He's leading in New Hampshire and in Nevada, and is performing respectably in Iowa. That said, his middling number in South Carolina suggests that, try as he might, he's still not connecting with black voters. Also, New Hampshire is neighbor to Vermont, and has Sanders-friendly demographics, so don't conclude from these numbers that he's pulled even with Warren.

Warren, for her part, has to like her position. She's currently dominating in Iowa, despite its rather centrist slant. She's in or near second place everywhere else.

Buttigieg is still alive. Indeed, if he somehow goes into Iowa and finishes in second place, interesting things could happen. Klobuchar still has enough of a pulse to keep going, as do Yang and Harris. Though Steyer has the same basic numbers as that trio, his "pulse" is just an illusion, as he is buying those very pedestrian numbers with vast cash outlays on TV ads. Gabbard, Booker, and O'Rourke really should pack up and head home right now.

As a thought exercise, let us imagine that all four elections were held today, and produced these exact numbers (with the concession that a caucus, like the one in Iowa, is a bit wonky and hard to project). By Democratic Party rules, here is roughly how many delegates each candidate would collect, by state:

Candidate IA NH SC NV Total
Elizabeth Warren 12 5 14 7 38
Joe Biden 0 5 21 8 34
Bernie Sanders 7 6 0 8 21
Pete Buttigieg 8 0 0 0 8
Everyone else 0 0 0 0 0
Total 27 16 35 23 101

(Note: In each case, only part of the state's delegates are awarded directly based on primary/caucus results; the rest are awarded later at the state conventions).

As you can see, very little will actually be decided in the first four contests, as the "leader" coming out of the early states is likely to have something like 40 delegates, or about 2% of the total needed for the nomination. However, narrative is a powerful thing, and could grossly magnify the effect of, say, a Biden loss in Iowa, especially since that is supposed to be the kind of state he can win back for the blue team. (Z)

Democratic Candidates Don't Care About California

With 39 million people, California is far and away the most populous state in the country, beating out Texas by 10 million people. However, it has not played a significant role in presidential politics in quite a long time. Because the state is now in the bag for whomever the Democrats nominate, general election candidates ignore it, except when they want some money. And during primary season, the Golden State has generally voted so late in the process that the party nominations were a fait accompli. There isn't much that state leadership can do about the general election problem, but the date of the primary is (somewhat) in their power. And so, California's primary was rescheduled for Super Tuesday, meaning the Golden State is now tied for fifth in line, making its picks shortly after Iowans, New Hampshirites, South Carolinians, and Nevadans have taken their turn.

One small problem: It didn't work. The various Democratic candidates aren't entirely ignoring California, but they aren't paying it much attention either. This was an entirely foreseeable outcome. It's a huge state with many, expensive media markets. Iowa, for example, has one of the nation's top 100 media markets (#75 Des Moines-Ames). California has four of the top 20 (Los Angeles, San Francisco/Oakland, San Diego, Sacramento/Modesto). On top of that, while there are 272 delegates up for grabs, they will probably be chopped three ways, meaning that the winner of the state will probably pick up something like 5% of the delegates they need for the nomination, while their nearest rival will get 4.5% and the person after that 3.5%.

In other words, the cost-benefit analysis of making a serious run at California doesn't really add up. And that is before we consider that, as we note above, it can be more important to win the narrative than it is to win the math. Some people say the DNC should strongly consider moving California first in the primary line, since it looks a heck of a lot more like the Democratic electorate than Iowa or New Hampshire does, and since it presents an excellent test of whether a candidate can mount a large-scale campaign. It's unlikely that will happen, though, and if it doesn't, then Californians are just going to have to resign themselves to being primarily spectators in the presidential election process. The reason it is not going to happen is that other people note that if California were first, step one for any candidate would be to raise $50 million to compete. That would mean only very well known candidates would have a chance. Someone like Pete Buttigieg would have no chance at all, whereas in the current system, he could do well in one of the small states and get serious attention. (Z)

What Do Evangelicals Believe These Days?

For decades after FDR's New Deal reforms were adopted, the Republican Party had a pretty clear and consistent set of core tenets: cut taxes, reduce non-military spending, anti-Russia/vigorous prosecution of the Cold War, staunch support for key allies, embrace of free trade, and so forth. Before and during the rise of Donald Trump, the GOP has seemingly abandoned most of these positions, replacing them with "principles" that, like the President's own personal principles, appear to fluctuate day by day. In many ways, the Party of Donald Trump would be unrecognizable to Ronald Reagan, while if Barry Goldwater or Dwight D. Eisenhower were alive today, they would almost certainly have jumped ship.

Much of this is also true of Christian evangelicals, who have so often twisted their interpretations of Christianity to suit the exigencies of the moment, particularly since Trump became President, it's a bit hard to figure out exactly what principles they still stand for. Is anyone really sure what core tenets of the faith remain immutable, and not open to being suspended when convenient? Consider, for example, megachurch pastor Rick Wiles, who threatened this week that if Donald Trump is removed from office, the President's supporters would and should begin "hunting down" Democrats. "However he leaves, there's gonna be violence in America," Wiles added. We might not have spent quite as much time studying—or thumping—our Bible as Wiles has, but one of us (Z) taught history of religions, and has certainly read the book. Spoiler alert: Jesus of Nazareth was not, in fact, a supporter of extreme acts of violence. In Matthew 5:38-40, he says:

You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.

Actually, (Z) was blocked on Twitter by many evangelical Christians for tweeting that verse at them in the midst of their enthusiastic celebrations when Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death.

In any case, we are not the only ones to notice that many evangelical Christians do not appear to be practicing what they preach. The Washington Post's Michael Gerson, himself an evangelical, published an op-ed on Tuesday taking his fellow white evangelical Protestants (WEPs) to task. He observes that their embrace of violence, hatred of immigrants, tolerance for corruption, and willingness to treat the Ten Commandments as optional for some people are all quite un-Christian. What these things are, however, is very Trump-like. "Rather than shaping President Trump's agenda in Christian ways, they have been reshaped into the image of Trump himself," Gerson says. He continues:

The result has properly been called cultlike. For many followers, Trump has defined an alternative, insular universe of facts and values that only marginally resembles our own. According to the PRRI poll, nearly two-thirds of WEPs deny that Trump has damaged the dignity of his office. Ponder that a moment. Well over half of this group is willing to deny a blindingly obvious, entirely irrefutable, manifestly clear reality because it is perceived as being critical of their leader. Forty-seven percent of WEPs say that Trump's behavior makes no difference to their support. Thirty-one percent say there is almost nothing that Trump could do to forfeit their approval. This is preemptive permission for any violation of the moral law or the constitutional order. It is not support; it is obeisance.

The most staggering number, perhaps, is the one that Gerson closes with: 99 percent of Republican WEPs oppose impeachment in all circumstances.

The choice that the WEPs have made here—a devil's bargain, if you will—is yet another case of prioritizing short-term gain over long-term pain. With Trump in the Oval Office, they will get their judges, and they will get their funding cuts for things like Planned Parenthood. They might even be able to curtail abortion rights (though that may not be so easy, after all, as a federal judge just struck down Alabama's draconian abortion ban). But someday soon, and maybe very soon, Donald Trump will leave office. His executive orders will be overturned, his funding priorities reversed. His judges will pretty quickly be a small minority in the federal judiciary, and then will fade away entirely. Meanwhile, older members of the evangelical movement are dying off and are not being replaced by younger ones. Most young evangelicals are either abandoning religion entirely, or else are embracing an inclusive, tolerant, charity-based interpretation of the New Testament. You know, something that sounds kinda like Jesus' ministry.

And the Republican Party has a very similar kind of problem. Think of how many interest groups that Donald Trump has harnessed that are likely taking their last gasp as a significant political faction. Evangelicals. Coal miners. Global-warming deniers. White supremacists. Isolationists. What will the Party do as these groups continue to decline, and after the Dear Leader exits the political stage? The odds are that the Grand Old Party is going to have a grand new look by the time the 2030 census rolls around. (Z)

Bet You Didn't Know that Lindsey Graham Is a Big Supporter of the Green New Deal

Adriel Hampton has just announced his candidacy for governor of California. On hearing that, you may suspect that this is not a serious campaign. After all, nobody's ever heard of Adriel Hampton. On top of that, California's next gubernatorial election is not until 2022, so it's a tad bit early for folks to be throwing their hat in the ring. Also, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) is running for reelection, and every single California governor since 1959 has been reelected to a second term.

Anyhow, if you did suspect that Hampton is not a serious candidate, you're absolutely right. He is running for one reason, and one reason only: To take advantage of a deliberately created loophole in Facebook's rules. Although advertisements from corporations, PACs, advocacy groups, private citizens, etc. are subject to review, and may be rejected if they make false or misleading claims, the social media platform allows candidates for political office to run any ads they wish, with no vetting. Most Facebook employees dislike this policy, but that's the policy nonetheless. "Candidate" Hampton plans to unleash a slew of left-leaning and demonstrably false advertisements, funded by donations from supporters. Either this will bring attention to Facebook's policy and force a change, or it will allow him to do some unfettered propagandizing. Either way, he sees it as a win.

Hampton has already produced his first ad, which you can view here. It uses real footage of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, plus carefully edited footage of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to "show" that conservatives are big fans of the Green New Deal. Facebook pulled the ad, with the explanation that when Hampton posted it, he was merely a member of a political group, and so he is not afforded the leeway given to political candidates. However, now that he's an official political candidate, the sky is presumably the limit. (Z)

Good News for House GOP?

There was news related to two different House districts on Tuesday, news that could theoretically be good for the Republican Party. First, a fairly well-known member of the GOP has announced his intent to run for the seat being vacated by Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA). In House races, and especially in special-election House races, name recognition counts for a lot. The only problem is that the candidate is George Papadopoulos. Is a fellow who did time in the pokey due to his corrupt acts on behalf of Donald Trump really what California's Republican voters are looking for? We, and in particular (Z), who regularly interacts with GOP voters from that district, are skeptical.

Less ambiguous for the Party was the news that Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) may rethink his previously announced retirement plans. The Congressman did not enjoy life in the minority, but now that the top Republican spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee is being vacated by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), Shimkus (who would be in line to replace Walden) has motivation to stay. That said, Republicans are not dancing in the streets over Shimkus' potential change of heart, as his district (IL-15) has a PVI of R+21, and so is going to remain in Republican hands regardless of what he ultimately decides to do. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct29 House Democrats to "Formalize" Impeachment Proceedings
Oct29 This Week's Witness List
Oct29 A Tale of Two Photographs
Oct29 Mike Pompeo May Be Interested in A New Job
Oct29 Sessions May Want His Old Job Back
Oct29 North Carolina Republicans Suffer Another Gerrymander Defeat
Oct29 Florida Republicans Forced to Postpone Annual Event
Oct29 Rep. Greg Walden Will Retire
Oct28 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Is Dead
Oct28 Trump Organization May Sell Washington Hotel
Oct28 This Is Why Trump Doesn't Go Out in Public
Oct28 We Now Have a Trump Tweet Baseline
Oct28 Show Me the Money
Oct28 Rep. Katie Hill to Resign
Oct28 Details for Sixth Democratic Debate Announced
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