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Political Wire logo Pence Is Corrupt Too
Trump Is Not Well
Ossoff to Run for Senate In Georgia
GOP Lawmaker Calls for End of Higher Education
Controversial Trump Court Pick Gets Expedited Hearing
Air Force Crews Stayed At Trump Resort 4 Times

Trump Won't Meet with Taliban Leaders at Camp David

Under normal circumstances, a meeting that does not happen is not newsworthy. After all, nothing actually happened. However, we are not living in normal times, and so a non-meeting can easily become big news. Such is the case with the meeting that Donald Trump allegedly had planned with Taliban leadership, but then allegedly called off following a Thursday car bombing that left 12 people dead.

In the end, if there really was a meeting planned, then Trump made the right decision. After all, one does not want to appear like one is rewarding things like blowing up 12 people. However, the President is still getting flayed from all sides, with much justification. Here are the main criticisms that are being leveled:

  • Is he lying?: There is no question that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Taliban leaders have talked about a meeting in the United States. However, Taliban leadership says that it never intended to participate in the meetings that Trump "canceled," and that there will be no meetings until the United States officially signs an agreement reached last year in Qatar.

  • Why do we know about this?: Since these meetings were top secret, and since they are not happening, why did Trump announce they had been called off? It certainly looks like he is trying to create an "accomplishment" where there is none.

  • Will more lives be wasted?: On that point, the Taliban is reportedly angry at being used as a political prop, and also at the United States' unwillingness to sign off on the previously negotiated agreement. So, they have threatened more violence. In other words, there is a case to be made that, far from improving a difficult situation, Trump made it more fraught and thus more deadly. If the Taliban follows through on its threats, then at least a little of that blood will be on his hands.

  • Optics: Even if the administration had a good faith belief that the Taliban was going to show up for the meetings, scheduling them for the weekend closest to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and at the same location where the George W. Bush administration coordinated its response to the attacks, was a very unwise choice. Republican members of the House, including Liz Cheney (WY), Michael Waltz (FL), and Adam Kinzinger (IL) were particularly outspoken on this point. For example, Kinzinger tweeted: "Never should leaders of a terrorist organization that hasn't renounced 9/11 and continues in evil be allowed in our great country. NEVER. Full stop."

  • Moving too fast: There is a sense among many folks, particularly the legally elected government of Afghanistan, that Team Trump is rushing this process so that he can claim to have ended the war in Afghanistan when he runs for reelection next year. In fact, the Taliban won't even negotiate if the Afghan government is in the room, which is not exactly a recipe for an agreement acceptable to all parties.

In short, it certainly appears like we have another case of Donald Trump trying to claim some glory for himself, but instead shooting himself in the foot. (Z)

Trump Might Get Kilt by House Oversight Committee

As everyone knows at this point, Mike Pence stayed at Donald Trump's resort in Ireland despite its less-than-convenient location on the other side of the country from Dublin, where the VP had meetings scheduled. It turns out that he's not the only one who went out of his way to stay at a Trump property. An Air National Guard crew was delivering supplies from the U.S. to Kuwait, and on both legs of the trip, stopped in Glasgow, Scotland to refuel. And while they were there, they were given reduced-rate rooms and free rounds of golf at Trump Turnberry, located about half an hour from the Glaswegian airport.

The positive interpretation of these events is that the President used a little of his largesse to give service members an experience that would otherwise be beyond their means. The negative interpretation is that he steered business toward one of his worst-performing resorts by putting pressure on those who cannot really say "no." Kind of like when the boss comes in and announces that his or her daughter is selling Girl Scout cookies. What is not in dispute is that stopping in Glasgow means a longer trip than the usual refueling stations (like, say Ramstein AFB in Germany). It also means more expensive gas, since the government has to pay commercial prices in Scotland (in contrast to the lower rates it gets at, for example, nearby Lakenheath Air Base in England). It is also very unlikely that we're talking about just one crew and one trip here. Surely, other service members were proffered and accepted the cheaper rooms and free golf.

House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD) thinks that something doesn't smell right here, and he's trying to look into it. However, he's currently being stonewalled by the Dept. of Defense, so this will probably be yet another occasion where Congress has to go to court in order to get what it wants. That said, the Air Force has announced that it is conducting its own investigation, so maybe Cummings won't have to wait, after all. Unless Trump interferes with the investigation.

Given the facts at hand, it certainly looks like Trump has violated the domestic emoluments clause. That one doesn't get as much attention as the foreign emoluments clause (which says the president can't accept emoluments from foreign governments). However, Article II, Clause 1, Sec. 7 of the Constitution makes clear that presidents may not receive any compensation for their services beyond their salary. Steering military personnel toward one's business, from which one profits personally, would certainly appear to be receiving compensation over and above the presidential salary. In any event, it's another item for the long list of Trump behaviors that could come back to haunt him. (Z)

National Poll: It's Still Biden, Sanders, and Warren

Another national poll, another win for Joe Biden. This time it is the WaPo/ABC News poll and it has Joe Biden on top, as have nearly all national polls this year. Here are the numbers among registered voters for candidates above 1%:

Candidate Pct.
Joe Biden 29%
Bernie Sanders 19%
Elizabeth Warren 18%
Kamala Harris 7%
Pete Buttigieg 4%
Beto O'Rouke 3%
Andrew Yang 3%
Amy Klobuchar 2%
Tulsi Gabbard 2%

As usual, Biden is the favorite of moderates, nonwhites, and low-income voters. Sanders does well among young men. Warren is the favorite of white college graduates. We have seen this pattern before, so it seems stable. (V)

New Hampshire Activists Favor Warren

The New Hampshire Democratic Party held its state convention in Manchester on Saturday. All the Democratic presidential candidates were there, as were "1,280 of the most influential Democrats in the state," according to state Party chair Ray Buckley. Nineteen of the candidates gave short speeches explaining what they would do as president. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) made subtle jabs at Joe Biden, essentially saying that it is not enough just to defeat Donald Trump and you can't ask people to vote for someone they don't believe in. This sort of event happens all the time, but when it is a statewide event and in the state with the first primary, well, everyone puts on their nicest clothes and shows up.

Politico sent a reporter to poll 100 of the attendees and get a feeling of what Democratic activists in the Granite State were thinking. It wasn't a completely random poll, but still has some value in gauging what Democratic activists statewide are thinking. Warren and Bernie Sanders were first and second respectively. That is not entirely surprising since they each come from neighboring states. Biden was third. However, many of the people polled were still on the fence and hadn't made a choice yet. Also worth noting is that activists probably skew further left than Democrats statewide.

Some of the comments the reporter got from the attendees were:

  • I think Joe Biden is too old to be president
  • I'm tired of old white guys telling me what to do
  • I think Bernie's a little too old and grumpy

So Warren, at 70, is the fresh young face.

While the attendees, by definition, are all dialed-in and not necessarily representative of all New Hampshire Democrats, these are the people who will knock on doors, distribute lawn signs, and recruit others to help campaign for their favorite candidate. Local power brokers rented private suites to receive the candidates who came to kiss their rings. This is their moment of maximum power and they know it.

On the whole, the convention was in marked contrast to the 2016 event, when boos and jeers rang through the arena. Then-DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz had to stop speaking due to the anger of the crowd. This time, in a show of unity, many attendees held up signs for whoever was speaking at the moment, regardless of their own personal preference. One delegate summed up the mood by saying: "Whoever wins the primary is who I'm supporting." (V)

The Early States Are a Mixed Bag

Politico got it right about New Hampshire. Elizabeth Warren is ahead there, albeit by a hair. A new CBS/YouGov poll of the four early states has Warren ahead in New Hampshire, Sanders ahead in Nevada, and Biden ahead in Iowa and South Carolina. All are close except South Carolina, where Biden has a massive lead because a majority of South Carolina Democrats are black and remember well his service as Barack Obama's sidekick. Here are the numbers for candidates hitting at least 3% in one state:

Candidate Iowa New Hampshire Nevada South Carolina
Joe Biden 29% 26% 27% 43%
Bernie Sanders 27% 25% 29% 18%
Elizabeth Warren 17% 27% 18% 14%
Kamala Harris 6% 7% 6% 7%
Pete Buttigieg 7% 8% 4% 4%
Beto O'Rourke <3% <3% 3% <3%

CBS also added up all the votes in all the early states (the first four, plus the Super Tuesday states) and Warren comes out on top there, with 26%, trailed very closely by Biden at 25%, Sanders at 19%, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) at 8%, Buttigieg at 6%, and O'Rourke at 4%. Warren also does well on the question of whom the voter would consider voting for. Among voters not currently favoring her, 47% would consider her. This means she has a lot of room to grow. She has also made a big jump in the electability sweepstakes. In June, 39% of Democrats thought she could beat Trump. Now that number is 55%. That makes her a lot more acceptable for Democrats whose first priority is beating Trump.

One thing CBS did that is different from most polls is that it calculated how many delegates each candidate will get up through and including super Tuesday. In the end, that's all that matters. The results are Biden 600, Warren 545, Sanders 286, Beto O'Rourke 34, Kamala Harris 16, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) 13. (V)

Steyer Qualifies for the Fourth Debate

Billionaire Tom Steyer has thrown a boatload of money into television ads and managed to get to 2% in Nevada in a new CBS/YouGov poll. This is the fourth poll that he managed to get to 2% and he has 130,000 donors, so he has qualified for the fourth Democratic debate (but not the third one). So far, 11 candidates have qualified for the fourth debate, which may force the party to split it over two nights, like the first and second ones were. If more candidates qualify before Oct. 1, there will certainly be two nights of debate. With 11 candidates, no decision has been made yet. (V)

Sun Belt vs. Rust Belt Dilemma Affects the Senate, Too

Many barrels of ink and gigapixels have been devoted to discussing the issue of whether Democrats should focus on winning back the angry, resentful blue-collar men in the Midwest (the "rust belt strategy") or trying to motivate millennials and minorities in states like North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida (the "sun belt strategy"). Focusing on both is somewhat like focusing on neither. Besides, none of the current Democratic presidential hopefuls is a good fit for both.

But the political calculus is more complicated than that. As we have harped on before and will harp on again, control of the Senate is exceedingly important, almost as important as winning the White House. If you are a Democrat, having Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) keep his job and tell President Biden that he [McConnell] alone is going to choose the entire cabinet, all judges, and all Supreme Court justices, is not a pleasant thought. If you are a Republican, the idea that President Sanders can actually carry out his entire program based on a series of 51-49 votes in the Senate is scarier than Halloween, even with the added attraction of Brexit this year (maybe).

For better or worse, the two issues, rust belt vs. sun belt and control of the Senate, are related. Most of the competitive Senate races are in the sun belt, including Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, and (arguably) Colorado. Colorado isn't exactly sunbelty but like the sun belt states, has a diverse population and very few decrepit, rusty, mothballed factories like Ohio, Michigan, and surrounding states. Maine is also a key race, but it is in neither belt. Having a candidate who motivates millennials and minorities to vote (the sun belt strategy) helps in Senate races much more than having one who grudgingly gets the votes of the blue-collar workers in the Midwest.

Arizona and Colorado are the Democrats' best Senate pickup opportunities. Appointed senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) was rejected by the voters last year and the Democrats now have a stronger candidate than then-representative now-senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) in the person of astronaut Mark Kelly. McSally is no doubt sweating bullets. In Colorado, popular former two-term governor John Hickenlooper has the edge over Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO). With the upcoming resignation of Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), the GOP may be fielding a newbie senator who hasn't run statewide and who may face a primary. This race will be hard-fought, as will the other Georgia seat, in which Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) is going for a second term. In North Carolina, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) is underwater in the polls. None of these competitive races are in the rust belt. This means that a presidential candidate whose primary appeal is to the older white men in the rust belt doesn't help much with the Senate but one whose appeal is to the more diverse voters of the sun belt definitely helps with the Senate.

That said, if the nominee is Joe Biden, he can try to rescue the sun belt and the Senate by picking a young black woman as his running mate. It might help a bit, although historically people vote for the #1, not the #2. Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris are the obvious choices, but of course Biden could surprise everyone and pick one of the many young black Democratic women in the House, such as Reps. Ayanna Pressley (MA) or Jahanna Hayes (CT). To some extent, Sanders has the same choice to make, although he personally excites the millennials, so he would have to focus more on getting minorities on board, which brings him back to essentially the same list. Warren would probably have to pick an exciting young white man. The 2018 version of Beto O'Rourke would do well, but it is not clear if the 2019 version makes the cut. (V)

Mark Sanford Is In

Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford is going to hit the trail. No, not the Appalachian Trail. Been there, done that. It's the campaign trail this time. He is now officially running for the Republican nomination for president. That makes him the third Republican to challenge Donald Trump in the Republican primaries (if there are any—see below), after former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld and former Illinois representative Joe Walsh.

Do any of them have a chance? Not likely, but stranger things have happened in politics—like a New York real estate developer with a fondness for porn stars and grabbing women by the pu**y getting elected president. Basically, all three challengers are hoping and praying that something dreadful happens to Donald Trump. For example, the economy could fall into a deep recession. Or the Democrats finally get a hold of Trump's tax returns and/or loan agreements with Deutsche Bank and discover that he is a wholly owned subsidiary of Russian President Vladimir Putin. None of this is predictable, but if you don't run, you can't win. It's also the case that Donald Trump may not be in the ballot in some states (e.g., California), and that if the GOP challengers can pick up some cheap delegates early on, and then some sort of collapse happens thereafter, they will be in the catbird seat as compared to a John Kasich or a Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) or some other candidate who might make a late entry.

British bookie William Hill is giving 1/10 odds that Trump will be renominated, which implies a 9% chance that he won't be. Would you spend 6 months campaigning if you had a 9% chance of being the Republican presidential nominee? For some people with a lot of free time, that's worth a shot, especially since the consolation prize is a nice job working as a talking head or a member of corporate boards. As an aside, William Hill gives Trump a 52% chance of being reelected president. Elizabeth Warren is at 17%, Joe Biden is at 14%, Bernie Sanders is at 9%, and the rest are down in the dirt. If you like longshot bets, you could try Jon Stewart, Steve Bannon, Chelsea Clinton, Ben Carson, and Sarah Palin, all at 200/1. At least they are better bets than Paul Ryan, Kanye West, Jill Stein, and Jamie Dimon, all at 250/1. (V)

Republicans Want to Scrap Primaries and Caucuses

For Weld, Walsh, or Sanford to win the primaries there have to be primaries. If there aren't any primaries, these gentlemen can't win them. Supporters of Donald Trump in a number of states aren't taking any chances, so they are trying to cancel their states' primaries and caucuses and just declare Trump to be the nominee.

Can they do this? Probably. Republican officials in Kansas, Nevada, and South Carolina officially voted on Saturday to cancel their primaries and caucuses. Arizona is expected to follow suit today, and others may do so as well. These cancellations follow months of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Trump allies to cancel as many primaries and caucuses as possible.

However, the three challengers also got some good news when Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) said yesterday that New Hampshire will not cancel its first-in-the-nation primary. New Hampshire is a small state that is easy to campaign in and has a history of marching to its own drummer. If one or more of the challengers does well in the Granite State, it could be embarrassing to Trump although it is unlikely to derail his nomination.

The challengers are calling foul about the cancellations, but this wouldn't even be the first time a party decided to cancel primaries and caucuses to defend an incumbent president from the possible embarrassment of doing badly in them. In 1984, South Carolina Republicans nixed their primary to protect Ronald Reagan. In 1992, Iowa Republicans didn't bother with the state's fabled caucus since they knew George H.W. Bush would win it. The Democrats are just as bad. In 2012, New York, Virginia, and some other states didn't bother to hold primaries and that wasn't the first time the blue team didn't show up. Can the challengers go to court on this? They could try, but the Republican Party is a private organization and is pretty much free to run its nominating process as it wishes. (V)

Howard Schultz is Out

They're coming and going at a high rate. Mark Sanford is in but Howard Schultz is out. The former Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, has now declared that he will not run as an independent candidate in the 2020 general election. Democrats across the country had feared that if he ran, he would pull a few percent from the Democratic nominee, and reelect Donald Trump. With Schultz' definitive withdrawal, that fear has been laid to rest. Schultz basically admitted this in his announcement. He said that "not enough people today are willing to consider backing an independent candidate because they fear doing so might lead to re-electing a uniquely dangerous incumbent president." That pretty much hits the nail on the head. Schultz presumably ran some polls and focus groups and discovered there was very little support for him, even though he thought he was a great candidate. In the end, he decided that spending $100 million or so of his own money, getting 1-2% of the vote, and reelecting Trump was a bit too much of an ego trip even for a billionaire who likes the limelight. (V)

The Mooch Is Loose

Remember Anthony Scaramucci? He was one of Donald Trump's most valued players—for a bit over a week, until Trump fired him. He's back and he's switched teams. He is now determined to defeat Trump. He's not going to challenge Trump in a primary because (1) if anyone remembers him at all, it is as a laughingstock, and (2) the other contenders at least have been elected to Congress or a governor's mansion, while he has never been elected to anything.

Still, the Mooch, as he is known, can't be counted out entirely. He was an insider for a short while and may know things that could hurt Trump with swing voters. He plans to spend the next 13 months traveling around the swing states and telling people that from first-hand experience he knows Trump is unfit to be president. Will it matter? It could. Remember that Trump won Michigan by only 11,000 votes and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by under 1%. Every vote could matter next year. (V)

Sanders Is Struggling with Older Voters

While Democrats are big on identity politics, that goes only so far. The oldest candidate in the mix, Bernie Sanders, is struggling mightily with the oldest voters. Only 4% of voters over 65 support him. He's the kids' candidate, not the geezers' candidate. Some strategists think he is just too visionary for them. He might be right in the long run (e.g., Medicare for All might be inevitable), but in the long run, current seniors will be dead. In fact, many of them will be dead in the short run, as well, and they don't want anyone tampering with their health insurance right now. To make it worse for Sanders, older voters are the most reliable voting bloc. On the other hand, he is still wildly popular among millennials. In 2016, Sanders won 70% of voters under 30 but only 30% of seniors. He has the same problem now.

Sanders' allies say that sooner or later, he is going to have to go head-to-head with Joe Biden and start chipping off Biden's supporters. That could happen as soon as this week's debate in Houston, when the two will be standing next to each other on the stage. One line of attack is to point to the recent polls showing that Sanders is also beating Trump in the general election, which hits at the heart of Biden's campaign: His electability argument. Another possibility is for Sanders to talk about his plan to raise the cap on Social Security taxes, thus making the program solvent for decades to come. Sanders also has problems with black voters, compared to how Biden is doing with them. So, whatever it is, Sanders needs to do something because there aren't enough young white voters for them to carry him to victory. (V)

Maine Will Allow for Ranked-Choice Voting in the Presidential Election

As Maine goes, so goes the nation. A long time ago, that is, like back in the 19th century, when Maine was actually a bellwether state. It's not any more, and it is moving further from the mainstream all the time. First, unlike every other state except Nebraska, it awards its electoral votes by congressional district, with the statewide winner also getting two. Second, it has just adopted ranked-choice voting (also called instant-runoff voting) for presidential elections. This will take effect with next year's general election.

The essence of RCV or IRV is that voters get to mark their ballots for first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on, as far as they want if there are many candidates. This means that a voter can pick a fringe candidate as first choice and when that candidate is eliminated on the first round of counting, the second choice comes into play, and so on. It's like having your cake and eating it, too. You can show your support for a fringe candidate without actually throwing your vote away.

It's not an accident that Maine is the first state to go for RCV. In 2010, tea party candidate Paul LePage ran for governor as a Republican. Libby Mitchell was the Democrat, but the race was complicated by the presence of independent candidate Eliot Cutler. Cutler was really a Democrat in disguise, having worked for former Democratic senator Ed Muskie and for Jimmy Carter. He ran a good campaign and pulled enough votes from Mitchell to elect LePage, whom Democrats hate with a passion. In 2014, Cutler ran again and once again pulled enough votes from the Democrat, Mike Michaud, to reelect LePage.

After two bitter gubernatorial defeats, Democrats had enough of this. With ranked-choice voting, Democrats could have marked Cutler #1 and Mitchell or Michaud as #2, so if Cutler didn't get enough votes to win, his voters could have thrown their support to the Democrat in the second round, preventing LePage from winning. By using RCV for all federal and statewide offices now, Maine assured that this situation won't happen again (with the exception of statewide general elections, which would require a Maine constitutional amendment to convert to RCV). So Maine is special in that it (1) casts electoral votes by congressional district and (2) uses RCV for federal elections and state primaries. But don't count on the rest of the country following quickly. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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