Bonus Quote of the Day
Sanders Skates By as Rivals Fight
Bloomberg’s Rough Debut
Warren Goes for Broke
Loathing In Las Vegas
White House Takes Control of Pardon Process
• Will Candidates Go All-In on Vegas Debate?
• Sanders Is Definitely Your Frontrunner Now
• Sanders Won't Release Any More Medical Records
• Latest Iowa Results: It's a Tie
• An Unfamiliar Position for California Voters
• Collins Is in Danger
It is hardly a secret that Donald Trump has little regard for the law, or for the federal department tasked with enforcing it. And now that he's escaped impeachment, the President is really confident that worrying about what the law says is no longer worth his time.
The latest news on this front came Tuesday, when the administration announced that pardons or clemency had been granted to nearly a dozen white-collar criminals. The list included former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who was busted for abusing the powers of his office, former NYC police chief Bernard Kerik, who was busted for cheating on his taxes, and former "junk bond king" Michael Milken, who was busted for illegal business practices. It is unknown why Trump might have sympathized with folks who abused the powers of their elective office, cheated on their taxes, and/or engaged in unethical business practices. Perhaps some historian in the distant future will figure it out.
When the Founding Parents created the presidency, they gave the chief executive the pardon power so that he might correct miscarriages of justice, and also so that he might use a pardon in service of broader goals of benefit to the country (for example, trading a pardon in exchange for information about a conspiracy). Tuesday's pardons do not appear to fit comfortably in either category. The general commonality between yesterday's beneficiaries is that they are all friends of Trump and/or they have fawned over him. Obviously, #45 is not the first president to give a helping hand to a friend or a donor. However, no Trump predecessor was anywhere near so brazen about it. Even the Bill Clintons of the world at least had the decency to wait until the very end of their terms to get their hands dirty.
At the moment, we are also left with the question of whether or not the timing of the pardons was a coincidence. Maybe so. On the other hand, Trump was in Los Angeles on Tuesday raising money for his reelection campaign and for the RNC. He held a fundraiser just miles from the home of Milken, a man whose fortune exceeds $3 billion. Perhaps a generous donation to the coffers of the Republican Party is already in the mail. Alternatively, Trump associate Roger Stone is scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow. Judge Amy Berman Jackson has shown no inclination to take it easy on Stone, and is likely to assess a sentence that would take the convicted felon well into the next presidency (even if Trump is reelected). So, perhaps Tuesday's announcement is meant to pave the way for a Stone pardon on Thursday, bringing the week's list to a nice, even dozen.
If Stone is pardoned, that will necessarily deepen the turmoil in which the Dept. of Justice is already enmeshed. That turmoil already caused more than 2,000 former employees to sign a letter calling for AG Bill Barr to resign. And today, a group of federal judges will hold a rather unusual meeting to discuss the administration's involvement in politically charged cases. It is not known exactly what they will talk about, and it's not likely they will make any announcements about the content of their conversation. Nonetheless, the confab shows yet again that it's not just outsiders who think there are serious issues with the Dept. of Justice these days. It's people in the know, too.
And speaking of Barr, he has reportedly told allies that he is considering resigning if Donald Trump keeps interfering with Dept. of Justice matters. Maybe that's true, and the AG has reached a crossroads. However, we remain very skeptical. The first rule for someone who is thinking about quitting their job is: Don't tell anyone until you're sure. That goes double for anyone who works for Donald Trump, a man who sees such talk as a sign of disloyalty. This has all the hallmarks of Barr's second political theater performance of the week, a "leak" designed to give him some legal and political cover, and possibly to calm some of the queasy feelings that federal judges and current Dept. of Justice employees are having. Again, we'll likely know for sure very soon; once someone is actually a short timer in the Trump administration, the end tends to come rapidly. (Z)
Boy are there a lot of Democratic debates. So many these days that it seems like there's one almost every week. Anyhow, six presidential candidates will descend on Paris Las Vegas tonight, as they duke it out for the ninth time this cycle.
The big debate news on Tuesday was that Mike Bloomberg has qualified to be on stage. This represents a bit of a hiccup in his "stay on the sidelines until Super Tuesday" strategy, but he says he's spent the last couple of weeks prepping in case he did end up making the cut. This is not Bloomberg's first rodeo, of course, and he's participated in candidate debates before. If you would like to see him in action, here is a clip from one of the 2011 NYC mayoral debates. He's not bad, though up against five very skilled candidates who have much more debate experience than he, he's going to need to work on his body language and his eye movement. He figures to be the main attraction tonight, as this will be the first opportunity for moderators and rival candidates to put him through the wringer. Anticipating the obvious first question he's going to be asked, Bloomberg announced on Tuesday that he would sell his company if he becomes president. Exactly where he will find a buyer for a huge media conglomerate worth tens of billions of dollars was not specified. A more feasible option might be to have an IPO and have it listed on the New York Stock Exchange, so investors could buy shares in it.
The other star attraction, of course, will be Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). As the clear frontrunner these days (more below), he will have a big target on his back. Other candidates have been loath to attack him, at least in part because his followers do not take kindly to such things. However, time is running out, and he's at risk of pulling away from the pack. So, presumably the gloves will come off, at least partway. For his part, the Senator will obviously parry any attacks upon him, but he's also got an agenda: to take Mike Bloomberg down a peg. The likeliest way that Sanders gets derailed at this point is if all the moderate support coalesces behind one candidate. And, at the moment, Bloomberg is the most likely person to be that candidate. So, on Tuesday, Sanders used Twitter to fire some preemptive shots across the bow of Bloomberg:
Presumably, this will continue tonight. And Bloomberg may prove to be the first candidate who has no problem punching Sanders as hard as is possible. After all, there is likely not a lot of overlap between "Bernie Sanders' base" and "Potential Mike Bloomberg voters."
The other four candidates on stage have significant issues they need to address. The campaigns of Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are reeling right now, and both need to right the ship pronto. Meanwhile, the campaigns of Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) are surging, but they need to show they can make some inroads with minority voters, or else their momentum could vanish very quickly. Undoubtedly, the candidates spent their days on Tuesday thinking about how to meet these challenges.
As we note in most of these debate pre-game pieces, the moderators generally try to ask at least a few questions tied to the state and the venue that are hosting the debate. The obvious subjects that are apropos, and yet somewhat distinct, to a Nevada audience are immigration and labor unions. When it comes to the latter, the specific question that has been hotly debated this week among Nevada unionists (of whom there are many) is whether Medicare for All is a good thing or a bad thing for labor unions. If the moderators attempt to craft a question tailored to the specific venue, well, we have no idea what that might be. Legalized sports gambling, maybe?
The party gets started tonight at 6:00 p.m. PT, and will last for two hours, which means East Coast viewers are gonna have to stay up late. The hosts are NBC News, MSNBC, and The Nevada Independent, while the moderators are Vanessa Hauc, Lester Holt, Hallie Jackson, Jon Ralston, and Chuck Todd. That's probably four too many; everyone would be better served if Holt just did the job alone. Hopefully the quintet can at least keep things more interesting than the show that will be happening in the next theater over, entitled—we're not making this up—"Sex Tips for Straight Women From a Gay Man." (Z)
Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, effectively tied in the Iowa caucus (see below), and is set to come out on top in Nevada. That certainly suggests that he's the frontrunner, a conclusion supported by several national polls published this week, by Emerson, NBC News/The Wall Street Journal, SurveyUSA, and NPR/PBS/Marist. Here are the numbers:
At the moment, it's Sanders' race to lose. He leads in each of the four polls, and his average is more than 10 points higher than any of his rivals. The other notable thing is that today is, in effect, the first real day of the Bloomberg campaign, and he's already in third place. He's clearly a moderate on the rise, and it's no wonder that Sanders is already trying to take him down. (Z)
In the days and weeks following Bernie Sanders' heart attack, the Senator said he would make a full accounting of his health, so as to assuage any concerns that he's not up to the demands of the world's toughest job. He produced a few effusive letters from physicians, and a list of conditions he's been treated for in the past and medications he's taking in the present. On Tuesday, he announced that will be the end of it, and there will be no further disclosures. His exact words:
We have released, I think...quite as much as any other candidate has. We released two rather detailed letters from cardiologists and we released a letter that came from the head of the U.S. Congress medical group, the physicians there. So I think we have released a detailed report, and I'm comfortable with what we have done. If you think I'm not in good health come on out with me on the campaign trail and I'll let you introduce me to the three or four rallies a day that we do.
Later in the day on Tuesday, the Senator again confirmed that no further documentation is forthcoming.
On one hand, Sanders' position is understandable. He's released a fair bit of information, and any further disclosures will either have no effect on his campaign, or else will harm him. On the other hand, he is a 78-year-old man who just suffered a heart attack, and who has released less information than many other past candidates, and less information than his previous promises seemed to imply. The parallels to Donald Trump's health "disclosures," not to mention Trump's promises about his tax returns, are noticeable. Obviously, this did not hurt the President much, politically. The Senator is gambling that the same will be true for him. (Z)
The good people of Iowa have completed the recanvass of their results demanded by the DNC and also by the Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders campaigns. The newest version of the numbers still has Buttigieg on top, but by the slimmest of margins. Specifically, the former mayor now has 563.207 state delegate equivalents compared to 563.127 SDEs for Sanders. That means they are now separated by just 0.08 SDEs, or .007% of the overall total.
One might expect that, after three different counts—the incorrect first one, the pretty correct second one, and now the current one—that would be the end of it. After all, what really matters are the actual delegates awarded, and those are not changing. However, trailing by .007% is still trailing, and the Sanders campaign wants a win. So, they are going to exercise their right to demand a(nother) recount. At this point, we can only hope we have a final result sometime before the 2024 Iowa primaries are held. (Z)
Californians are used to not mattering much in presidential campaigns. During the primaries, the two parties' nominations are generally set by the time the Golden State takes its turn (with the 2008 Democratic primary a notable recent exception). And in the general, the only time either nominee bothers to stop by is to shake down the state's rich people for money.
This year, however, things are different. To start, the primary was moved forward, to Super Tuesday. The Democratic race, of course, is murky, and will remain so on Mar. 3. The state has a vast number of delegates available, almost triple the number from the four early states combined. And, while the parties run the primaries/caucuses in many states, in California the state government does the job. So, we should get clear and reliable results on election night. In short, it's entirely possible that if some candidate has a very successful day, it could launch them into the stratosphere (Bernie Sanders), establish them as a viable contender (Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar), or save their campaign from ruin (Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren).
As you can see, Sanders lapped the field in one poll, and has a solid lead in the other.
And now, the qualifiers. There is a huge difference between one poll and the other, particularly in terms of Sanders vs. Bloomberg. One has the Vermont Senator blowing the former New York Mayor out of the water, the other has it close enough to be a near-dead heat, statistically. It matters a lot which one is closer to the mark, especially since Bloomberg will be making his national debut tonight, and since he still has two weeks to drown Californians in commercials. This is a state with 5 of the 100 largest media markets in the nation, which means it's the state where having gobs of money to buy ads with is most likely to matter.
There's also another key factor that works to the advantage of...who knows, exactly? James Carville once famously described Pennsylvania as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between. That's not quite a proper description of California, but if you wanted to switch it to Los Angeles and San Francisco with Ohio in between, that would not be too far off the mark. Outside of the densely populated urban centers are vast suburbs and rural areas that are considerably less blue than the state as a whole. This means that statewide polling could give an inaccurate sense of a candidate's true delegate potential, since someone like Sanders could get 80% of the Democratic vote in a place like Santa Monica (known to locals as the People's Republic of Santa Monica) or Berkeley, but only 10% of the Democratic vote in a place like Riverside or Bakersfield. It also means that, as the linked article observes, tactics are going to matter a lot. No candidate can plausibly give time to all of the state's many congressional districts. The candidates who do the best job of focusing on persuadable districts that they can win-over are likely to overperform their polling numbers.
In short, things are going to be interesting in California for the first time in years. Even in 2008, there were only two choices on the ballot. The last time California was asked to weigh in on this many plausible candidates was...well, never. (Z)
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) won her first U.S. Senate election by a 6% margin, and her last three by 23% or more. For many months, we (and all other politics-watchers) have speculated that those halcyon days are gone for her, and she is in for the race of her life in 2020. On Tuesday, we got the first poll of the race since the impeachment trial, from Colby College. And the poll confirms that the speculation was right on the mark, as likely challenger Sara Gideon, the Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, leads Collins, 43% to 42%.
Obviously, it is still early, and this is just one poll from just one pollster. Further, given the margin of error in polls, 43%-42% is a statistical tie. Still, there's no avoiding that this is bad news for Collins. First, Gideon isn't even the official nominee yet. Once she is, her support should increase, particularly since she's going to be handed nearly $5 million that's been raised for the purpose of knocking off Collins. Second, Gideon's name recognition lags Collins. That means, in general, that the Speaker's support has room to grow, while that is much less true for the near-universally recognized Collins. Third, the last time the race was polled (way back in June of last year), Collins led Gideon by 16 points. That's a 17-point swing in just over six months. Even if we allow for the possibility of differences between polling houses (the June poll was from Gravis), it is clear that the momentum is currently on the side of Gideon. Obviously, you don't get to be a four-term U.S. senator without learning a few tricks. That's good for Collins, because she's going to need them. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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