A Fake Impeachment Trial
Well, That Settled Nothing
Homeland Security Suspends Global Entry for New Yorkers
Extra Bonus Quote of the Day
How Mitt Romney Decided Trump Is Guilty
McConnell Calls Impeachment a ‘Colossal’ Mistake
• So, What Happened in Iowa, Exactly?
• Did the Iowa Results Contain Secret Bad News for the Democrats?
• Trump Delivers State of the Union
• Impeachment Acquittal Right on Pace
• Trump Gets Highest Ever Approval from Gallup
• Most Farmers Are Sticking with Trump
There is a strong argument to be made that, having already blown their "deadline," Iowa Democrats should take their time, and not release any results until they are 100% complete and 100% verified. However, the state and national parties are both desperate to minimize their embarrassment, and the state party is also trying to protect Iowa's first-in-the-nation status. So, they released what they've got on Tuesday. And with 71% reporting, here is where things stand:
There is not likely to be too much movement in the numbers once the final tallies are in. First, because mathematically speaking, 29% is a lot less than 71%. Second, because there does not appear to be much of a bias in the results that have been reported already. For example, they don't appear to be mostly rural votes or mostly urban votes.
Anyhow, this is obviously shaping up to be a big win for Pete Buttigieg. Not only did he outperform the polls, his result also argues that he might be the candidate who has the secret sauce for bringing the Midwestern states back into the Democratic column. Maybe his youth, his relative lack of experience, and his sexual orientation aren't the issues that some thought they might be, given that the folks in Iowa who voted for him Monday skew older and more moderate than the average Democrat. He'll need a good showing in New Hampshire, though, because fourth-in-line South Carolina is likely to be a disaster for the Mayor, and it's not clear third-in-line Nevada will be much better.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also had a good showing, performing at (or a little above) where the polls said he would, and cementing his status as the (current) progressive standard-bearer. That said, he pushed very hard for this result, ground-game wise and spending-wise, and turnout was steady compared to 2016 (more below), while his vote total actually went down relative to last time. The votes that he did get were disproportionately young, educated, and male (by contrast, Buttigieg drew fairly evenly from all demographics). This suggests that the Senator can still command his large and enthusiastic base, but that he is not drawing anyone new into the fold, no matter how hard he tries.
Meanwhile, we would argue that two candidates' results were mixed. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) will be pretty happy if she ends up ahead of Joe Biden, and comfortably above the 15% threshold (which is actually calculated on a precinct-by-precinct basis, but is also shorthand for "viable or not" when considered at a statewide level). However, Warren is still looking up at the two candidates who represent her main competition, particularly Sanders. Meanwhile, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) performed at the top end of her polling results, and is not far removed from "frontrunner" Joe Biden. Maybe that will give her some momentum. On the other hand, she's not likely to get any delegates from Iowa and she didn't clear 15%, despite being a Midwesterner (and a neighbor). Further, the next several states up are definitely not Klobuchar territory.
Obviously, the disaster of the night—and this was rumored even before any results were reported—was Joe Biden's result. We have argued, many times, that winning Iowa doesn't matter all that much. However, we have also pointed out, many times, that losing Iowa (badly) does matter. There is no precedent for someone trailing three different rivals in Iowa and then coming back to win the Democratic nomination. There's even very little precedent for trailing two rivals in Iowa and coming back to win the nod (Michael Dukakis did it in 1988, and Bill Clinton in 1992). Further, this was supposed to be Biden's wheelhouse—blue-collar, rust belt, etc. Oh, and don't forget, he was free to campaign his heart out while most of his main rivals were stuck in Washington.
Biden got a little lucky with the screw-up on Monday, as that muddies the waters a little bit. On the other hand, he's neck-and-neck in New Hampshire polls with Buttigieg and Warren, and he's trailing Sanders there. If Monday's result nudges a few people toward Buttigieg and away from Biden, Uncle Joe could be looking at two third- or fourth-place finishes to start the campaign, which would look very bad, and could even cause his South Carolina firewall to start to crumble. Given this, a pro-Biden super PAC has just purchased nearly $1 million in advertising in New Hampshire to try to help him to, at very least, a second place finish.
The other disaster was Tom Steyer's result. He dropped vast amounts of money in Iowa, and got virtually nothing for his investment. If he can't even make a tiny dent in the Iowa caucuses, a situation that is custom-made for being influenced by someone with gobs of cash, then where can he possibly make a dent? It's his money, and if he wants to shovel it into the fire, that's his right. But he's definitely not a contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Of course, Steyer is not alone in that. The notion that there just might be some sort of secret underground support for Andrew Yang, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), et al.—support that the pollsters were somehow all missing—appears to have been laid to rest. Especially since a caucus is vastly more susceptible to being influenced by a small cadre of loyal supporters than a primary is. The end is nigh for these folks; the only question is whether or not they hang on until March 3 (Super Tuesday) and hope for a miracle that's not coming.
Reportedly, though you probably shouldn't bet too much on it, the final results from Iowa will be in sometime today. And then, New Hampshire is up next Tuesday. Thankfully, the folks in the Granite State have no plans to use an app to record their results. (Z)
Inasmuch as we are still just a day or two removed from the Iowa fiasco, any assessment of what went wrong must come with a few caveats. Namely: (1) Some things are still not known, (2) Everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else so as to deflect blame from themselves, and (3) If there was hacking by Russians or any other malefactor, that won't be known for...who knows how long? Possibly never.
With that said, this certainly appears to be a case of good, old-fashioned incompetence. If you're looking for a highly concentrated amount of technical expertise, you might go to Cambridge, MA, or the Silicon Valley, or Austin, TX. On the other hand, you probably wouldn't start with a substantially rural state populated by a disproportionate number of senior citizens. There were a number of mistakes made, most of them entirely predictable (including by us). To wit:
- Improper Vetting: By all indications, the software being used on Monday was not
subjected to much testing or critical analysis. One big misstep (which we specifically pointed out) was that
the app (and the code for the app) were not publicly released. This sort of "security through obscurity"
never actually makes things more secure. On the other hand, if you publicly release your software, experts will often
put it to the test and share their feedback free of charge.
- KISS: There is a philosophy in hardware/software design known as
(sometimes expressed colloquially as "Keep it simple, stupid"). Complexities should be introduced only if absolutely
necessary, and if justified by their benefits. The system the Iowans tried to use, by contrast, was complicated...for
the sake of being complicated? Results had to be reported in two different ways, and were handled by both a human and a
computer recipient. The app being used apparently had a tricky, not-terribly-intuitive interface. Bad ideas.
- Improper Training: The Iowa Democratic Party should have made sure that every precinct
captain downloaded the app well in advance of the caucuses, and that each of them knew how to use it. This actually
shouldn't have been all that hard to achieve; they could have just instructed everyone to submit a report of, say, 10
delegates for Mickey Mouse a week before the caucus. Anyone who passed the test could reasonably be considered vetted,
and anyone who didn't, the party would have a week to figure out why. This, of course, did not happen.
- Too far, too fast: In a pretty clear attempt to stay ahead of the curve, and to protect
their special status, the Iowans made a lot of changes to the process all at once. Not only the app and the technical
stuff, but also collecting two different raw vote totals per precinct (in addition to delegate totals). It was too many
complicated tweaks to implement simultaneously. On Tuesday, there were pictures all over the Internet of folks trying to
make sense of their delegate "worksheets":
There are over 1,700 precincts in Iowa. Did the pooh-bahs really think that 1,700 different people, all of them volunteers, would be able to figure out a form that looks more complicated than a tax return?
- No Surge Protection: No, we don't mean a power strip that protects your computer if the electricity suddenly kicks up. That said, the basic concept is similar. Whenever crunch-time is imminent, it is important to add additional staff, phone capacity, server capacity, bandwidth, etc. as appropriate. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Somehow, the Iowans did not do this. In particular, there was nowhere near enough staff nor were there enough phones to handle the surge that happened once people realized they did not know how to use the app. Many precinct captains remained on hold for hours before giving up and going to bed.
Again, it is possible that there were bad guys who did bad things, and that we'll eventually learn of that. However, Occam's Razor favors the simpler answer: The Iowans just screwed up.
Here is the good news. In the end, not too much damage was actually done. The race will go on, and eventually the Iowa results will be a drop in the bucket. And in exchange for "not much damage," the whole country got an object lesson in how well elections-via-modern-technology work. In short, it's an idea whose time has not come. In fact, (V) is a computer expert by trade, and (Z) is no slouch in this area either, and both of us would argue that elections-via-modern-technology is an idea whose time will never come. Already, Nevada (who has its own caucuses in a couple of weeks) has announced that they won't be touching the Iowa app with a 10-foot pole, and presumably other states will follow suit, if for no other reason than to avoid a news cycle dominated by stories about how dopey they are.
The other good news, if you're a person who doesn't like Iowa's privileged place in the process, is that change is almost certainly coming. Even many Iowans believe that having caucuses and/or having their state go first does not make sense anymore. The Iowa GOP, on Tuesday, tried to defend the process, pointing out (crowing?) that they managed to get through the night on Monday without problems. Of course, life is easier when there's only one candidate on the ballot. That also overlooks that the Republicans botched their caucuses back in 2012, initially announcing Mitt Romney as the winner, and then later deciding that Rick Santorum had actually come out ahead. That means that of the last four times Iowa had a contested primary (2012 Republican, 2016 Democratic/Republican, 2020 Democratic), they managed to screw up three of them. A batting average of .250 won't even keep you in the major leagues, a world where .300 is very good and .350 is godlike. So, batting .250 in getting your caucus results right definitely won't get it done.
And now, the bad news. Americans have become an impatient lot. They've also become a suspicious lot. And so, when forced to wait for results on Monday, a great many people promptly jumped to the conclusion that there was a conspiracy underway, and that some unknown evil force (the DNC, the Russians, Anonymous, the Flying Elvises—Utah chapter) was behind it all. There are at least a couple of prominent national politicians right now (hint: they're both male, in their seventies, and have been described as "populists") who have encouraged supporters to be hyper-suspicious when it comes to any irregularity in election results (even if those irregularities are exaggerated, or have a non-malicious explanation). What happened in Iowa on Monday is only going to encourage such thinking, and if election night comes down to a few very closely contested states (very possible), it could get ugly, particularly if results are not known until Wednesday or Thursday.
Somewhat related to this is the order in which results are reported. Sometimes the early results happen to favor one candidate, but when the full results are in, someone else wins. That was true in the 2018 Senate election in Arizona, in which Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) was ahead until she wasn't (she was later appointed to the other Arizona seat). Often people concoct all kinds of conspiracy theories about how "coming from behind" was fraudulent, when all that happened is that some areas were quicker to report than others. In particular, it is common for rural areas to get reported before urban ones, because urban ones tend to have more voters per precinct, and so take longer to wrap up all the paperwork. That means that Democrats, who rely on urban votes, quite often appear to "come from behind." Of course, the converse of this is 2000, when the red-leaning Florida panhandle, which is in a different time zone than the rest, created all sorts of issues when its votes were added to the state's total. Point is: It can go both ways, sometimes. (Z)
Needless to say, the big story in Iowa was the screw-up. However, quite a few commentators also took note of something else: Democratic turnout was similar to 2016, and lagged pretty far behind the high-water mark reached during the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton tilt in 2008. The Washington Post, Politico, CNN, and MSNBC, among others, had items on it. And in each case, they reached a variant of the conclusion that maybe Democrats aren't as enthusiastic as we thought this year, and that maybe it will be easier for Donald Trump to get reelected as a result.
To us, this seems a data point in search of a narrative. To start, there is no hard evidence of a correlation between caucus enthusiasm and general election enthusiasm in Iowa. Because the Democratic Party has not generally released raw vote totals, the actual turnout for the Iowa caucuses is only known for four cycles (2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020). That isn't much of a data set. One should also keep in mind two other things. The first is that caucuses attract a very different demographic (hardcore and/or activist types) as compared to a general election (everyone, including low-engagement voters). Success in getting low-engagement voters to the polls will be key in November, and a caucus (which demands a huge investment of time and effort) is not a good predictor.
The second thing to keep in mind is that people show up when they feel a really important choice is being made. It is easy to forget that Clinton had a hardcore, outspoken base of support in 2008 (remember, "Hillary or Bust" came years before "Bernie or Bust"), as did Obama. Those two folks were popular and talented enough that they would claim three consecutive Democratic Party presidential nominations between them. Of course they managed to draw a lot of people to the polls in 2008. This year, by contrast, most folks find two or three or four of the Democrats to be acceptable, and the Democratic mantra is "anyone but Trump." It is entirely plausible that many Iowans would be happy to stay in their, nice warm homes (it was 20 degrees in Des Moines on Monday night) and let their neighbors figure out which Democrat is most electable, but then would plan to show up in November to register their preference between Trump and "anyone but Trump."
There is no question that Democratic enthusiasm will be a critically important storyline this year. And it could be high, moderate, or low—anything is possible at this point. All we are saying is that you shouldn't draw conclusions from one wonky data point. Further, if you made us place a bet, we would think back to what happened in the 2018 midterms, and would still put our money on "high enthusiasm," regardless of what happened in Iowa. (Z)
Perhaps this should not be the fourth item on the page. After all, Donald Trump is the president, and the State of the Union is the most important speech of the year. However, we wanted to put all the Iowa stuff together, and Trump's SOTUs (including this one) are pretty predictable. So, in the fourth spot it goes.
Given how much people like conflict and drama, there is no question that the big story of the night is going to be the various thumbings of the nose that partisans on both sides delivered on Tuesday. Most Democratic women wore white to protest Trump's generally anti-woman policies, and a number of Democrats made a point of walking out during the address. There was also a chant of "HR 3!" when Trump talked about reducing prescription drug prices, and wondered why Congress hasn't done anything on that front.
That said, those are all garden-variety-type demonstrations. Much more noticeable was when Trump pointedly refused to shake Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) hand at the start of the address (the key moment comes at 2:20):
At the end of the speech, Pelosi responded in kind, very pointedly tearing the copy of the speech she had been given into pieces:
She had plenty of time to think about that move, and clearly decided it was a good response, and that it wouldn't look petulant. Maybe Democrats really are getting tired of going high, and are starting to punch low, following Mike Bloomberg's lead.
The President did avoid any direct mention of impeachment, something that had Republicans holding their breath. That said, he is still Donald Trump, so the speech was peppered with shots at the people he believes to be his enemies. His primary target, actually, was Barack Obama. There were so many references to the "failed policies" of the Obama years (Cuba, economic policy, military policy) that one would think that #44 is going to be on the ballot in November. Trump did not mention any of the actual 2020 candidates by name, but it wasn't too hard to figure out whom he might have in mind when he warned, for example, about the threatened "socialist takeover of our health care system."
Beyond that, it was mostly red, red meat for the base. There was much braggadocio about the things the administration has done in the last year: the USMCA, the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the trade deal with China, the proposed Middle East peace plan. The President may also have mentioned the economy once or twice. In an appeal to American exceptionalism, Trump name-checked a list of American heroes, including Teddy Roosevelt, John J. Pershing, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Wyatt Earp, Davy Crockett, and Annie Oakley. It is the sort of list that screams: "I'm in my seventies, and formed my set of cultural references in 1960." Certainly, there can't be too many people under 30 who know who, say, Black Jack Pershing was.
State of the Union addresses also generally have a touch of theatricality, and Trump is a reality TV star, so of course there were going to be a few high-drama moments. The biggie, which they pretty much played on a loop on Fox News, was when the President asked his guest Rush Limbaugh, recently diagnosed with lung cancer, to stand up. He then awarded the right-wing radio talker with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on the spot (with Melania Trump actually putting the decoration around Limbaugh's neck). We suppose that Rush is an excellent poster child for the First Amendment, and people's right to political speech, but someone who quite literally hates half the country is an odd fit for an award that has gone to folks like Rosa Parks, Neil Armstrong, Muhammad Ali, Cesar Chavez, Roberto Clemente, and Harvey Milk. Put another way, when some future president name-checks a list of American heroes in the 2050 SOTU, we are dubious Limbaugh makes the cut.
Anyhow, the rest of the week is going to be a Trump victory lap, between the right-wing reception of the SOTU, and today's impeachment acquittal. And then, there will undoubtedly be some new and scandalous behavior, and everything will be back to "normal." (Z)
The Senate conducted its second-to-last day of impeachment hearings as it prepares to deliver the acquittal that Republicans promised to Donald Trump at the beginning of the whole thing. Heck, they've been promising acquittal since before he was even impeached.
The order of business on Tuesday was, for lack of a better term, grandstanding. The senators, if they wished, were given a chance to share their thoughts on impeachment. Mostly, their goal was to produce soundbites in support of whatever vote they are going to cast, such as Susan Collins (R-ME) declaring that she will vote for acquittal, because while the President's behavior was definitely "wrong," she also "do[es] not believe the House has met its burden." One wonders exactly what specific part she feels they did not prove. Some senators also used their time to take care of some unfinished business. For example, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who is challenging Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for the title of "Senate's biggest jerk," read the name of the alleged whistleblower into the record, after having twice failed to get Chief Justice John Roberts to do so.
The Senate is expected to conduct the final vote on the articles of impeachment around noon ET today, and then the President will be free to party like it's 1999 (aka, the last time a president was acquitted in an impeachment trial). And speaking of forming your cultural references a long time ago, we did indeed squeeze a "Honeymoon in Vegas" reference and a Prince reference into the same post today. (Z)
For most presidents, an approval rating in the vicinity of 50% is nothing to write home about. However, Donald Trump is not most presidents, and so he was thrilled to learn on Tuesday that his approval rating in the latest Gallup Poll is at 49%, the highest number that house has ever given him.
There is a temptation, particularly among folks who live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, to interpret this as evidence that impeachment has rebounded on the Democrats, and that Trump is picking up some sympathy points. After all, that (apparently) happened with Bill Clinton. However, please keep in mind what we said above about drawing conclusions from one data point (quick review: don't do it). First of all, Gallup does about one poll a month, and Trump's last three results with them were 44%, 45%, and 43% approve. So, 49% is still pretty much within a normal range of variance. Further, even the latest Gallup result has him underwater (50% disapprove).
On top of that, this could well be a "dead cat bounce," as it was with Clinton in 1999. In fact, it was a virtual certainty that Trump's polling numbers would go up this week, as presidential approval always goes up right after a State of the Union address. That is why Trump so badly wanted impeachment to be done before the SOTU, so that the SOTU bounce would seem to be a rebuke of impeachment. Anyhow, it's certainly possible that between NAFTA v2.0, and the attack on Iran, and the SOTU, and the continuing good economy, and maybe even impeachment, the President's numbers really are on the upswing. But don't believe it until you see the trend across several polls and, even more importantly, until you see it in a few weeks, by which time a dead cat bounce would have dissipated. (Z)
Donald Trump really needs farmers to remain in his corner if he wants to be reelected. The math is simple; the states where he is most vulnerable (Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, possibly Iowa, possibly Ohio) have large farming populations. If the farmers go, then so too do his reelection chances.
CNN has a piece about this, noting that most farmers (though not all) are standing by the President, and wondering why that might be. After all, outside of immigrants, there may be no group of people who have been hurt more directly and more obviously by Trump's policies than farmers have. And the answer that CNN comes up with is pretty straightforward: the farmers like some things (subsidies, reduced water regulations) and dislike others (a flimsy Ethanol policy, the rise in bankruptcies), but the key is that they are buying into the notion that the tariffs/trade war are cases of short-term pain in search of long-term gain. So, they are willing to tighten their belts and batten down the hatches in hopes of riding things out until the promised land is reached.
CNN doesn't say it, but the real dynamic here is a little more complicated. The small family farm is, in most cases, no longer viable in the 21st century. Think of how many people these days get their shoes from a cobbler, or their prescriptions from an independent pharmacist, or their bread from the person who baked it. The difference between "farmer" and these other professions is that the government has been keeping many farmers afloat for generations with various forms of subsidies (dating all the way back to the New Deal). And even then, well, it's still hard for most non-industrial farms to survive. Trump is peddling a form of magical thinking: that, just over the hill, there is a glorious future (or is it a glorious past?) in which "American Gothic" will make its triumphant return.
Of course, even when that work was painted in 1930, it portrayed a world that was already past. And now, it's 90 years later, which should suggest how likely it is that Trump will ever bring about the renaissance he is selling (hint: about as likely as getting Mexico to pay for the wall). However, it's not important that Trump actually deliver on his promises, merely that his voters believe for another 9 months that he's going to do so. And since there is enormous motivation for farmers to buy into the fantasy, there's every reason to think Trump can hold onto them through Election Day, regardless of what happens economically. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb04 Don't Forget, There's Also an Impeachment Trial Going On...
Feb04 State of the Union Address Is Tonight
Feb04 This Probably Won't Make the SOTU...
Feb04 ...Or This, for That Matter
Feb04 Bloomberg Gets in the Gutter with Trump
Feb04 Rush Limbaugh Has Lung Cancer
Feb03 Finally the Voters Get Their Say
Feb03 Should Iowa and New Hampshire Go First?
Feb03 Can the Caucuses Be Hacked?
Feb03 Ann Selzer's Poll Will Not Be Released
Feb03 Poll: All the Leading Democrats Could Beat Trump
Feb03 Biden Wins Endorsement from Union That Backed Sanders in 2016
Feb03 DNC Changes the Admission Requirements for February Debate
Feb03 Vote on Trump's Conviction is Expected Wednesday
Feb03 Ernst Says President Biden Would Be Impeached Immediately
Feb03 Schiff Won't Say Whether He Will Subpoena Bolton
Feb02 Drip, Drip, Drip...
Feb02 Sunday Mailbag
Feb01 Party First (and Second, and Third...)
Feb01 Delaney Is Out
Feb01 The UK Is Out, Too
Feb01 Saturday Q&A
Jan31 The End Appears to Be Nigh
Jan31 Sanders Campaign Prepping List of Executive Orders
Jan31 Today in Metaphors
Jan31 Time to Get Creative
Jan31 ERA, Now?
Jan31 Super Bowl Sunday Will Offer No Respite from Politics
Jan31 Abrams Has Her Senate Candidate
Jan30 Senators Finally Get to Ask Questions
Jan30 John Bolton's World Is Upside Down
Jan30 White House Wants to Block Publication of Bolton's Book
Jan30 Poll: Majority Opposes Use of Executive Privilege to Muzzle Witnesses
Jan30 Poll: Biden and Sanders Are in a Statistical Tie in Iowa
Jan30 Biden Gets 200 Endorsements in South Carolina
Jan30 Trump Appointees Will Flood Iowa on Caucus Day
Jan30 Team Trump Hands Out $25,000 to Black Voters
Jan30 Trump May Not Go Gentle into That Good Night
Jan29 Trump Defense Wraps Up
Jan29 Trump Unveils Middle East Peace Plan
Jan29 Casualty Figures for Iran Strike Revised Upward
Jan29 Deficit Officially Reaches $1 Trillion
Jan29 Democratic Senate PAC Raised $61M in 2019
Jan29 GOP Braces for Collins Run
Jan29 Republicans Nervous about House Fundraising
Jan28 Trump Defense Hit with a Lightning Bolton
Jan28 Democratic Muckety Mucks Are Scared Witless of Sanders
Jan28 Which Democratic Candidate Is Being Hurt Most by Having to Be in Washington?
Jan28 Supreme Court Gives Trump a Victory on Immigration