Now that documents have come out showing that a question about citizenship has been included in the census in an overt attempt to reduce political power and funding of the blue states, House Government Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) is investigating. Cummings wants to see certain documents related to how the question got on the census. Donald Trump tried to block Cummings by claiming executive privilege yesterday. Cummings was not pleased, saying of the claim that "it appears to be another example of the administration's blanket defiance of Congress' constitutionally mandated responsibilities."
Democrats have accused Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of lying to Congress about how the question came to be added. Ross said it was added to help enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But the released documents written by the late Republican gerrymandering expert Thomas Hofeller, who hatched the plan, make it clear that Ross lied. House Democrats on the Oversight Committee have had it with Ross' lies and with AG William Barr's stonewalling the committee, so a few hours after Trump's assertion of privilege yesterday, it voted both of them to be in contempt of Congress. The vote was along party lines, with the only exception being Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who voted with the Democrats.
What happens next is unclear. Previous cabinet officers have ignored contempt citations and nothing happened to them. The Democrats, however, are very angry now and are going to push this hard, so it may end up in the courts, with the Supreme Court making the final call.
The combination of the census question and gerrymandering is something most people, even most politicians, don't understand, but it is far more important than so-called hot-button issues like abortion. It will determine the distribution of political power in the United States for at least the next decade, maybe many decades. The Republicans' end game here is to draw congressional maps based on the population of voting-age citizens, ignoring everyone else, because they know this favors the GOP and could provide years of power for them in excess of what their actual numbers would justify. (V)
Ok, he didn't say it quite like that, but it's not going to be hard for operatives in Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other countries to hear it that way. Sitting for an interview with ABC News on Wednesday night, Trump was asked what he would do if a foreign agent approached him with damaging information about a political rival. "I think you might want to listen. There isn't anything wrong with listening," he said, while also reiterating comments from earlier in the day that he definitely would not call the FBI.
Trump is very wrong, of course, when he says there isn't anything wrong with listening. Beyond its being sleazy and unethical, it would potentially be the starting point for a charge of criminal conspiracy. It would also be a violation of campaign finance laws, since foreign entities may not give anything of value to campaigns, including information. And since it's not just any campaign, but a presidential campaign, giving valuable information would also likely be a violation of the emoluments clause in the case of a sitting president.
That said, foreign agents are now under notice that Trump is happy to talk with them. And if they've been watching American politics at all for the last three years (which they surely have), they know this kind of thing is difficult to prove, and—under current circumstances—unlikely to be prosecuted. So, the Democratic field better be sure the Saudis don't get any dirt on them, because we know exactly where it will end up.
But once again, you should be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. China does not like Trump and if President Xi Jinping decides to join the game, he might just put on a blue jersey rather than a red one. (Z)
Yesterday Donald Trump lashed out at "fake news" and "fake polling" after a report leaked that an internal Trump campaign poll showed Trump trailing Joe Biden in a number of key states. The internal poll was probably correct, since a public Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday showed that not only was Trump trailing Biden (by 13 points), but he was also trailing six other Democratic candidates by substantial margins. Allegedly, Trump ordered aides to lie about the poll, something he denied. So naturally, he attacked the media:
.....The Fake (Corrupt) News Media said they had a leak into polling done by my campaign which, by the way and despite the phony and never ending Witch Hunt, are the best numbers WE have ever had. They reported Fake numbers that they made up & don’t even exist. WE WILL WIN AGAIN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2019
Although it is very early in the cycle and much can change, there is no reason to believe that the Quinnipiac poll was off by more than the usual margin of error (about 4 points). Trump's internal poll probably showed something similar. (V)
A Monmouth University poll of likely Democratic caucusgoers in Nevada has good news for Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). At 36%, Biden is leading the field by double digits, but Warren has moved into second place at 19% in the Silver State. Here are the scores of all the candidates at 1% or above:
Once again we are seeing that Biden, Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) are the big five, as they are in other states. Nevada is special due to the large number of Latinos and union members, and the poll shows clearly that Biden does well with them. In contrast, Julián Castro, the only Latino in the race, is down in the weeds. If he indeed gets 1% in what is certainly his best of the four early states, his goose is cooked and he will almost certainly drop out immediately, if he even gets that far. (V)
The Washington Post is reporting that one of Donald Trump's former closest aides, Hope Hicks, has agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee in a closed session. A transcript will be released to the public, however, so unlike Las Vegas, what happens in the Judiciary Committee chamber isn't going to stay in the Judiciary Committee chamber.
Hicks was present as part of the campaign and in the White House during many of the most contentious periods of the past 3 years. She spent hours in the Oval Office on many days, and Trump probably trusted her more than anyone else outside of his family. She knows a tremendous amount about Trump and the administration, but she has always been intensely loyal to Trump, as well. So despite her knowing a lot about the inner workings of the administration and what was on Trump's mind, she may be hesitant to tell much of it to the Committee. On the other hand, she may be upset about how her then-boyfriend White House aide Rob Porter was treated at the end of her time in the White House (which is part of what prompted her exit) and/or she may be leery of sticking her neck out for the President. So, it's also possible she could spill her guts. She's scheduled for next Wednesday, so we will find out then. (V)
Joe Biden is making his attacks on Donald Trump the centerpiece of his campaign. The other Democrats are starting to notice, and want to get on the anti-Trump bandwagon. Kamala Harris, a former San Francisco prosecutor and California attorney general, told a reporter yesterday that if she is elected president, she would pursue prosecution of Trump based on the evidence in the Mueller report. She said she believes the only reason that Mueller did not indict Trump was the Dept. of Justice's policy not to indict sitting presidents.
She is the first candidate to say that she would go after Trump if elected. This comment jibes with one made by fellow Californian Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), who said earlier this week that she wants to see Trump in prison. The other candidates are either calling for impeachment, or at least hearings that might lead to impeachment. If Harris wins, she would have to move quickly because the statute of limitations is 5 years from the time the crime is committed. (V)
In the past, Democrats have made a half-hearted attempt to woo conservative religious voters with shows of religiosity. This time appears to be different. A number of the Democratic presidential candidates are openly talking about religion, but this time to justify their liberal positions. The idea is not nutty. In Europe, some of the Christian-Democratic parties can be described as center-left and they use the same Bible as American politicians.
Pete Buttigieg went after Vice President Mike Pence's dislike of homosexuality by saying: "Your quarrel, sir, is with my Creator." Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-CA) has defended her pro-choice stance on abortion by saying that free will is a core tenet of Christianity. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has talked about "civic grace" when he talks about reforming the criminal justice system. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) has talked about her alcoholic father having been "pursued by grace." Kamala Harris tells audiences about how she used to sing in her church's choir. Elizabeth Warren often notes that she used to teach Sunday school. Joe Biden and Julián Castro discuss their Catholicism frequently.
In short, many of the Democrats have no intention of giving up on religious voters. Instead, they are trying to show how religious they are and how their principles flow naturally from their faith. (V)
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has been flirting with an independent presidential run, scaring the living daylights out of Democrats who think he could pull enough votes away from the Democratic nominee to give Donald Trump a second term. However, Schultz has not been in the news of late, generating speculation that he has lost interest. Nope. It turns out that he had back problems while campaigning, has had three surgeries to correct the problem, and his doctors have told him to take it easy. He has now said he will take the summer off and continue the process of deciding whether to run in the fall.
What Schultz is worried about is the Democrats' nominating someone like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, who will raise taxes on billionaires like himself. If in September it becomes clearer that this might happen, he might jump back in. On the other hand, if a more moderate Democrat like Joe Biden is leading, he might decide to sit it out.
Democrats are not powerless, however. States are largely free to set their own requirements for ballot access, and a dozen or more blue states could substantially raise the threshold for getting on the ballot, not only requiring more signatures in the state overall, but also requiring a sufficient number in each county in the state. Of course, the real problem would be Schultz' siphoning away votes in places where Democrats don't have the trifecta, like Wisconsin, and there isn't much the blue team can do about that. (V)
If there is one thing Donald Trump absolutely cannot stomach, it is the lack of total loyalty to him. So when Justin Amash called for Trump's impeachment, this was like waving a red flag in front of a bull (although in all fairness to bulls, they are color blind). Trump is starting to take action to squash Amash like a bug. He and his allies are talking to members of the family of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, one of the richest families in Michigan, about funding a primary challenge to Amash. A 30-year-old state representative, Jim Lower, who is a strong supporter of Trump, has already announced his challenge of Amash. If the DeVos family donates a few million dollars to his campaign, he would undoubtedly become a serious challenger and might be able to take down Amash.
Amash is aware of his situation, but hasn't announced anything about his future plans yet. If he concludes winning reelection is a lost cause, he could decide that he wants to go down in glory and take Trump down with him. He is a strong libertarian and could announce that he is running for the 2020 nomination of the Libertarian Party for president. He would have an excellent chance of getting it and with his strong conservative credentials, would certainly pull votes of traditional conservatives away from Trump.
In 2016, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson got 4.5 million votes (more than triple Jill Stein's total), and came in third in the election at 3.3%. Amash would likely do just as well and would take Michigan off the map the day he announced. But so far, he hasn't given any indication of whether he prefers losing a race for president or losing a race for Congress. (V)
Donald Trump's nominee as a federal district court judge in Michigan, Michael Bogren, has bowed out of consideration, forcing Trump to find a new nominee. Bogren has come under attack from Republican senators for anti-Catholic bigotry. In 2017, East Lansing, MI, barred a local farm from participating in its farmers' market after the Catholic owner, Steve Tennes, said that he would not allow same-sex couples to get married on his farm, although opposite-sex couples were welcome.
Bogren defended the city by saying that a Ku Klux Klan member could not get away with refusing to allow an interracial marriage if his business allowed same-race marriages to take place there. Several senators were not amused by Bogren comparing Catholics to KKK members and made it clear they were not going to vote for his confirmation.
While this one judgeship is not that important by itself, it does show that the Trump administration barely vets its judicial candidates at all. An intern equipped with a notebook computer could have found the case, including the KKK reference, in 10 minutes of searching and alerted someone higher up on the totem pole to take a look. Or maybe that did happen, and the higher up didn't think that equating Catholics with KKK members was such a big deal. (V)
After Anthony Kennedy was replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Chief Justice John Roberts became the swing vote on the Supreme Court. Many conservatives hoped and many liberals feared that the Court would become much more conservative, with numerous 5-4 decisions favoring the Republicans. A week ago, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave a hint that some bitterly fought 5-4 cases were about to be announced. The implication is that Roberts will vote with the four other Republican nominees on key cases, including partisan gerrymandering, the citizenship question on the census, and whether a 40-foot cross may be displayed on public land. And these cases may be only the beginning. Roe v. Wade, affirmative action, taking race into account in college admissions, and many more areas that were thought to be settled law could be next on the Court's agenda.
Roberts has compared himself to an umpire calling balls and strikes, but in the next two weeks we may find out how true that really is. If Roberts is the deciding vote in a series of cases in which the Republicans win, the Supreme Court is likely to become a campaign issue in the 2020 election. Some Democrats will start claiming that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) "stole" a seat by not letting Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland come to a vote, so turnabout is fair play and if the Democrats win all the marbles, they should increase the Court to 11, 13, or even 15 justices. All that would take is an act of Congress. Historically, the number of justices has varied from 7 to 10. Nothing in the Constitution says it has to be nine. (V)
A wide variety today, and not one about impeachment!
I'm not convinced of the Trump cognitive decline theory. You and others note a change in current speech compared to some decades ago. Couldn't the new Trumpspeak be a refinement from a logical pattern to one of intentionally "blowing smoke"? Such a change could actually serve a habitual liar quite well. One of his basic constructs is: Hillary is crooked...I dunno...what do you think? It's not a logical flow of words, but it takes the form: assertion/denial/reinforcement. It's a form of communication that connects very effectively with the id brains in his audiences. T.W., Lake Lure, NC
The basic communicative strategy you identify is a real one, and has been used by politicians for a very long time. "I Like Ike" would hardly be mistaken for a Shakespearean soliloquy, nor would "Read my lips—no new taxes." However, if someone consciously decides to use a very simplistic, but very clear, rhetorical style, then we would expect their spoken words to be...simple and clear. But consider, for example, Trump's now-infamous "nuclear" speech from July 2016:
Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you're a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I'm one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it's true!—but when you're a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that's why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we're a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it's not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what's going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what's going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it's four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it's all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don't, they haven't figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it's gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.
This is not simplistic, it's incomprehensible. And it is not consistent with someone deciding to "dumb down" their verbiage (which is known as style-shifting), it's consistent with someone who is having trouble organizing their thoughts and having trouble remaining focused. Both are symptoms of cognitive decline.
Trump may well be trying to tailor his language to his base, but even if that is so, it's not the only thing that's going on.
I wanted to express my (mild) disagreement with your assessment of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler's hearing with John Dean. I think sometimes the media rushes to "place" an event, to mark it with an adjective, to pin it down. I'm not sure Nadler made a mistake. As an introduction, it made all kinds of sense to me, and John Dean's dignity and clarity stood out against his Republican hecklers. B.R.D., Westerville, OH
We had a number of e-mails taking exception with that item, and it's true we didn't give Dean enough credit for the quality of his performance. While he didn't deliver any great sound bites, he was charming and witty, and certainly came off better than the Republicans who were sniping at him.
However, we stand by our assessment that it was a mistake. First, because most folks don't know who he is, or why they should care about his opinion. Second, because he has nothing material to add to the current investigations. So, it's as plain as day that this was political theater, which plays right into the GOP argument that all of this is a witch hunt and a stunt undertaken only for the purpose of smearing the President.
Has anyone done an analysis of the political views of the viewers of different cable news networks? I know the results would seem to be obvious, but I think it could be incredibly important. The 2016 election (and presumably the 2020 election) came down to relatively small numbers of independent voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. I want to know where those voters get their news. M.B., San Jose, CA
This analysis has been done many times, and it invariably affirms exactly what you think. For example, here are the results from a Suffolk University poll conducted late last year:
The results are similar, though quite often even more stark, when considering newspapers and websites. For example, readers of the Washington Post and New York Times are even more solidly Democratic than CNN or MSNBC viewers; readers of The Daily Wire or Drudge Report are even more solidly Republican than Fox News viewers.
Trying to understand independent voters, and their influences, is very tricky, because there are really two very distinct types of independents. The first type, which is the much more common type (roughly 75% of the overall total), is the independent who isn't really independent. Many folks flatter themselves that they are open-minded, or iconoclastic, and so they call themselves "independent," but they actually vote 90% of the time (or more) for the same party.
The other 25% of independents really are independent, but this group is divided into several sub-categories. Some of these folks are legitimately engaged, and are actually open to candidates from either party, but they are a fairly small fraction of the 25%. A larger portion is "independent" because they are almost entirely disengaged from the process, and they basically don't care about politics. These folks aren't consuming much news at all. The third portion is "independent" because they've decided both parties (and, quite often, the media) are hopelessly corrupt and unworthy of their attention and support. These individuals also consume relatively little news (except, maybe, fringy news), and are the type to vote third-party, if they vote at all. A very substantial portion of this third group is single, white men under the age of 50, which suggests a fair number of survivalists, and white supremacists, and other fringe types.
The executive summary is this: The number of true independents out there whose votes are in play, and who are actually subject to persuasion by the media and/or by political campaigns is actually pretty small. That said, fewer than 80,000 votes in the three closest states were the margin of victory for Donald Trump, so every vote kinda matters.
I believe Democrats winning control of the Senate in the 2020 election may be MORE important (although possibly more difficult) than winning the Presidency. Does this make sense? R.S.D., Fairlee, VA
There is no question that it will be easier for the Democrats to win the White House in 2020 than it will be for them to win the Senate. There is every reason to think that the blue team's presidential nominee will be the favorite. At worst, they will be even odds. Meanwhile, among the eight or so Senate seats that are in play (Democratic and Republican), the blue team will, on average, be about even odds, and will need to win six out of eight to take the Senate. Winning one coin flip (or better) is much easier than winning six coin flips out of eight.
As to the Senate being more important than the White House, there is much merit in that argument, as well. There's a strong case to be made that Donald Trump is only the third most powerful person in the country, behind Chief Justice (and swing vote) John Roberts, and Mitch McConnell. And McConnell has spent the last eight years reminding us exactly how much power he has to shape the judiciary, and to set the legislative agenda for the country (or, more precisely, to keep it from having much of a legislative agenda at all). Obviously, the blue team would prefer to control all three branches of government. But if they can't, controlling both houses of Congress would certainly allow them (and, specifically, current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY) to engage in some McConnell-style realpolitik. It would presumably also put them in a position to send bill after bill to the White House, putting pressure on Trump to sign, or else to make clear to the whole country that he is the gum in the works.
If the Democrats win the White House but lose the Senate, McConnell might decide that his strategy with respect to Merrick Garland worked, so why not swing for the fences? Suppose he told the president that he wasn't going to allow any cabinet nominees to even get a vote unless McConnell himself got to pick half the cabinet, including all the important slots. What could the president do? Rinse and repeat for judges and Supreme Court justices. So you might have a good point that the Senate is more important than the White House.
Rather than spend resources on all the awful things we now do to Central Americans seeking asylum at our southern border, wouldn't it make more sense, even to the Trump Administration, to use resources to help/pressure Central American governments to end gang violence, end civil wars, and/or provide economic development so that citizens can feel safe and/or earn a decent living at home? Or has the source of ultra-cheap illegal labor been too great a sugarplum for American business, for us to want to provide this sort of aid? H.R., Cudahy, WI
There is a fair bit of wisdom here. And, in fact, Beto O'Rourke has made this basic idea a centerpiece of his plan for dealing with immigration.
The sticking point, we think, is not the one you point out. Although that may also be part of it, the bigger problems are that: (1) A lot of voters would perceive this as "rewarding" those countries for bad behavior, even if that's not especially correct, and (2) A lot of voters have trouble wrapping their minds around the semi-abstract notion that investment in a foreign country could reduce crime back in the United States.
On Monday, you wrote: "(T)he Democrats...also decreed that a candidate had to get at least 15% of the vote to claim any delegates at all." What happens if Iowa fades on Uncle Joe, his votes get spread around, and no Democrat leaves Iowa with 15%? No delegates from Iowa? What if only one Democrat (presumably Uncle Joe) gets 15% and a slew get 14%? Biden gets all the delegates, even though it was a 4 or 5 or 6 contender race? R.H., Racine, WI
The Iowa caucuses have multiple rounds. Any candidate getting below 15% in round 1 is eliminated and that candidate's supporters have to pick someone else in round 2. That process is repeated until every remaining candidate is at 15% or higher. But you do have a point. Imagine that 20 candidates are still standing by the time the caucuses roll around and each of them gets about 5% in round 1, so they are all eliminated. Then what?
The DNC thought of this. If nobody gets 15%, then delegates will be awarded proportionally to the first place finisher and any other candidates who got at least half as many votes. So if the winner got 14%, anyone getting 7% or more would get some delegates.
As to the other issue you point out, there's nothing in the DNC rules about that. If one candidate ends up on the right side of 15% and many others end up just slightly on the wrong side, then the 15% candidate would take all the marbles, since all the sub-15% candidates would be eliminated.
These things are also true for primary states, incidentally.
In terms of electability, why does it matter if Bernie Sanders is weak in the primaries with black voters? They're certainly not going to go vote for Trump in the general. B.B., Columbus, OH
Well, in the primaries, the problem is that black voters make up a sizable percentage of the Democratic electorate. So, a candidate who does not do well with them is in deep trouble. We don't have great numbers, but it appears that the last Democratic nominee who did not capture the majority of the black vote in the primaries was...Walter Mondale in 1984 (who was up against Jesse Jackson for much of primary season).
In the general election, the important thing to keep in mind is that voters don't have to choose the Democrat or the Republican. They can also choose...to stay home on Election Day. This is not to predict this would happen with Sanders and black voters, merely that it is a real possibility if a nominee does not connect with a particular segment of the electorate. The same possibility exists with other nominees and other segments of the Democratic electorate, like Joe Biden and progressives, or Elizabeth Warren and moderates, or Kamala Harris and noncollege white men. We can't be especially confident until we have some data, and the complication is that people aren't always certain about whether they will vote or not until fairly close to the election, such that most pollsters don't start asking the question ("Are you likely to vote?") until July or August. What that means is that we can't really know if a particular candidate has an enthusiasm problem with a particular part of the Democratic base until about a year from now.
On Tuesday, you cited Einstein's definition of insanity (repeating mistakes, expecting a different outcome). You should be careful with this kind of finger-pointing, because you also made a severe mistake in 2016 (when predicting who will become president). Will you really do better in 2020, or repeat your mistakes once more? It is your talk about Justin Amash running as third-party candidate that lets me think you could repeat your mistakes and prove youself as insane: "If Amash runs a third-party campaign, or if he merely signals to like-minded voters that Trump is antithetical to the Libertarian cause, that could be trouble for a president whose margin of error is very thin." Have you considered that a third-party candidate running "against Trump" could become a key to securing Trump's second term? J.K., Bremen, Germany
First, let us note that many people wrote in to point out that Einstein did not say that, or did not say it in that particular way. We know that, which is why we specifically noted that he probably didn't utter that particular quote. There are many famous lines that are actually garbled versions of the original, like "Play it again, Sam," and "A rose is a rose is a rose," and "Beam me up, Scotty," and "Elementary, my dear Watson."
Anyhow, Trump was a serious underdog in 2016, and that is what we (and everyone else) said. But sometimes underdogs win, and he did. That said, we (and most others) were probably something like 95% confident of a Clinton victory when we really should have been something like 70% confident. And so, everyone this year is being just a little more cautious. We have already written phrases like, "As we learned in 2016, you can never be sure until the votes are counted" so many times that it's almost become cliché.
Consistent with our extra-cautious approach, we wrote that Amash could become a problem for Trump; we did not assert that he will. And predicting what effect a hypothetical third-party candidate will have is always a touchy business. Anyone who studies their political history knows, for example, that the Dixiecrat candidacy of Strom Thurmond in 1948 was expected to hurt Harry S. Truman, by stealing conservative Democratic votes from him. The actual effect, however, was to help Truman by highlighting that he was a moderate and was not the "racist" candidate, and so he picked up millions of centrist and black votes as a result. In Amash's case, though, it's very difficult to construct a plausible way he could steal votes from the Democratic candidate, given his conservative positions on the issues. For example, he is against abortion, against gun control, against "Obamacare," and for deporting undocumented immigrants. Any Democrat who is on the same page as Amash is a newly discovered species of Democrat. On the other hand, it's very easy to construct a plausible way he could steal votes from Trump.