• Is High Turnout Actually Bad for the Democrats?
• Florida Republicans Lose In Court, Again
• Assange Claims Trump Administration Tried to Bribe Him with a Pardon
• The Stone Pardon is Coming
• Obama Will Keep His Cards Close to the Vest
• Another Election, Another Challenger for Lipinski
It May Have Been Paris, But Nobody Surrendered
Did you know that there have been at least 50 different military conflicts that ended with the Treaty of Paris? The "tradition" started with the Treaty of Paris of 1214, which ended hostilities between King of France Philip II August and Duchess of Flanders Jeanne de Constantinople, and continued through the 20th century. It would appear that the six Democrats who participated in the ninth presidential candidates' debate didn't get the message, though, because none of them was in a surrendering mood on Wednesday night. The tilt was far and away the snippiest matchup we've seen thus far.
Who helped themselves the most? Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and it's not especially close. In the eighth debate, she needed a good showing, and instead did her best impersonation of a wallflower, blending into the background more often than not. Last night, by contrast, she came ready to rumble. Really, the circumstances were ripe for her to hit a home run—the two things she's best known for are pushing back against sexism and railing against the 1%. Well, who was making his debate debut on Wednesday? Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire who has been accused of habitual sexism. Warren pummeled him like a piñata: "So I'd like to talk about who we're running against, a billionaire who calls women 'fat broads' and 'horse-faced lesbians," she said. "And, no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump." The Senator also got into it with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), Pete Buttigieg, and Joe Biden at times, though Bloomberg was far and away her favorite target. It's entirely possible that her campaign cannot recover from its current swoon, but if there is any chance to right the ship, Warren did as much as she possibly could in that direction last night.
Who helped themselves the least? Joe Biden. He's another one that needs to right the ship, and he didn't do himself too many favors on that front on Wednesday night. His answers were sometimes not sharp, his joke lines didn't land, and he disappeared for large stretches of the debate. He also did much to live up to the joke that every sentence out of his mouth contains three things: a noun, a verb, and Barack Obama. For example, Biden basically took credit for ending stop and frisk in New York City because the Obama administration sent advisors to NYC to consult on the program, and Mike Bloomberg agreed that time had come to wind it down. Perhaps the former Veep deserves some sort of credit for that, but he made it seem like he personally went to the city and put his foot down.
This is not to say that Biden was bad, as such. He was...perfectly fine, and did reasonably well. But when you really need a home run, a solid single isn't getting it done.
Anyone else worth mentioning? Mike Bloomberg. We do not consult other outlets' debate wraps before we write our own, because we don't want to end up participating in an echo chamber. Our guess is that most pundits will have him as the biggest loser of the night. We're not so sure that's right, though.
To start, the bad. On stage, in the harsh glare of the spotlight, the former NYC mayor did better than 99% of people would have done. Unfortunately for him, this is the major leagues, and so he was standing up there with five people who range from "very polished" to "smooth as a baby's bottom." And flanked by them, Bloomberg came off as herky-jerky and awkward with more than one "deer in the headlights" moment. It did not help that some of his pre-scripted lines landed with an absolute thud. For example, he was clearly expecting a big laugh when he declared: "What a wonderful country we have. The best known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses. What did I miss here?" He did not get that laugh.
Worst of all, however, is that Warren (aided by Biden) hit Bloomberg hard on all the nondisclosure agreements he's signed after settling lawsuits by former female employees, wondering: (1) How many NDAs there are, in total?, and (2) Whether he would commit to releasing these folks from the NDAs, so they could share their stories. He couldn't answer the first question (beyond saying "very few"), he answered the second question by claiming that the NDAs were in place to protect the other party's privacy and not his (which makes no sense), and he tried to defend himself by asserting that the settlements were not triggered by his own personal behavior, "other than maybe they didn't like a joke I told." All of this was an absolute train wreck for him, and by the end of this segment he was being booed by the audience.
Given all of this, why are we on the fence about his performance? Two reasons. The first is that while he absolutely butchered the segment on his past sexist misdeeds, he was pretty effective during the segment on stop and frisk. Asked to explain himself, Bloomberg declared: "Well, if I go back and look at my time in office, the one thing that I'm really worried about, embarrassed about, was how it turned out with stop and frisk....There is no great answer to a lot of these problems. And if we took off everybody that was wrong off this panel, everybody that was wrong on criminal justice at some time in their careers, there'd be nobody else up here." While that answer did not get it done with the other candidates, we think voters might find it refreshing that he's willing to admit past errors, and that he concedes that he is not perfect and that he does not claim to have all the answers. Those sorts of admissions do not often come from the mouths of politicians.
The other thing that may be appealing to voters is Bloomberg's willingness to punch, and punch hard. He went right after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), not to mention Donald Trump. We suspect that after three-plus years of a torrent of nastiness from the right side of the aisle, many Democrats would like to see someone on the left side of the aisle let loose and truly respond in kind. On Wednesday, Bloomberg made the case that if voters want a street fighter, he's that guy.
How did the moderators do? Not great. We expected Lester Holt to do well, and thought he did, though that might be confirmation bias. The other four folks delivered pretty nondescript performances, and the entire quintet struggled to maintain discipline. Also, it's not the moderators' fault, but the first half of the debate sounded like it was taking place in a cave. Was the sound engineer drunk?
Issue of the night: Electability. Sanders is barely a Democrat in one direction. Bloomberg is barely a Democrat in the other. And these two fellows may well be your frontrunners right now. Whether a socialist with policies that make many centrists queasy, or a billionaire with some very troubling black marks on his résumé, can accrue enough votes to win a presidential election was the very first question that came up, and was also the one that got the most attention.
Snarky line of the night: Klobuchar was just a bit off her game, which meant that after three or four debate performances that ranged from "great" to "stellar," Wednesday night's was merely "good." Not helping things is that she was the target of both of the night's top two zingers. Speaking of healthcare plans, Warren slammed Buttigieg's as "[N]ot a plan. It's a PowerPoint." and then followed that with "And Amy's plan is even less. It's like a Post-It note, 'Insert Plan Here.'" Ouch. Buttigieg, who made Klobuchar his primary target on Wednesday, landed the other zinger of the night. Responding to the Minnesota Senator's braggadocio about her electoral success, Buttigieg said: "This is a race for president. If winning a race for Senate in Minnesota translated directly to becoming president, I would have grown up under the presidency of Walter Mondale." Double ouch, especially since Mondale suffered the worst electoral defeat in American history, winning exactly one state in 1984 (Minnesota, naturally, though he also won D.C.).
Non-snarky line of the night: From Buttigieg: "We shouldn't have to choose between one candidate who wants to burn this party down and another candidate who wants to buy this party out." As we note above, Sanders and Bloomberg look to be the frontrunners right now. That way of framing things could give some voters something to chew on.
Reddest meat of the night: From Bloomberg: "I'm a New Yorker. I know how to take on an arrogant conman like Donald Trump." It was clear the crowd, the same one that had previously booed Bloomberg, was very happy to hear someone punch the President in the nose.
Blunder of the night: Bloomberg's hemming and hawing about the sexual harassment settlements, and it's not even close. That line of attack was obviously coming, and it's remarkable that he appeared totally unprepared to respond to it. If he crashes and burns on Super Tuesday, that will be the moment people point to as when the tailspin began. That said, he's going to have another chance to answer, as he's also qualified for the South Carolina debate, which will happen just days before Super Tuesday.
A little historical perspective: Sanders observed that, "For a hundred years, from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama, this country has been talking about the need to guarantee health care for all people." Actually, when it comes to the government's role in health care, the Senator is off by over a century. The very first time a president dealt with this particular political football was in 1797, when the government was trying to figure out how to deal with injured U.S. Navy vets. John Adams signed the very first government-sponsored-healthcare bill into law that same year, providing some minimal standard of care for those injured vets. Unfortunately, things like bleeding, blistering, leeches, and drilling burr holes in the head were still key elements of the physician's toolkit back then; it's not clear that the government's assistance did those poor sailors all that much good.
That said, Sanders is correct in giving Theodore Roosevelt credit for being the first prominent political leader to talk about government-run healthcare for all Americans. This was after TR's presidency, and during his unsuccessful 1912 third-party attempt to win back the Oval Office. Unfortunately for the Rough Rider, many Americans were uncomfortable with such a dramatic expansion of government power, particularly after the American Medical Association came out and slammed the plan as "socialized medicine."
A detail that may fly under the radar: The candidates' podiums were emblazoned with a partial version of the Great Seal of the United States. According to federal law, you're supposed to: (1) get permission from the Dept. of Justice to use the Seal, (2) use the Seal only for non-commercial purposes, and (3) show the Seal only in its complete, wholly intact form. Presumably, NBC broke rule #1, and they definitely broke rules #2 and #3. One wonders if the pooh-bahs at NBC will be prosecuted by AG Bill Barr. Of course, even if they are, it doesn't matter. NBC is the network that aired "The Apprentice," so undoubtedly pardons could be had if needed.
On a scale of 1-10, how contentious was it? An 8. The gloves finally came off, and it turned into something of a free-for-all. The main battles of the evening:
- Sanders vs. everyone
- Bloomberg vs. everyone
- Buttigieg vs. Klobuchar
- Warren vs. Klobuchar
- Biden vs. Buttigieg
While one does not want to pooh-pooh the value of calm, reasoned political discourse, all the give and take certainly kept things interesting, and probably kept anyone from thinking about leaving and going to the performance of "Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man" that was happening next door during the debate.
On a scale of 1-10, how much will this debate move the needle? We will say 5. That's actually just a neutral, non-committal answer because there are too many known unknowns. Can Warren actually turn things around? Will Bloomberg rise, fall, or remain steady after his first time on the big stage? Is Joe Biden out of chances? Can Bernie Sanders get any redder? We mean that in the sense of ruddy-faced, not in the McCarthy sense. Anyhow, we just don't know the answers to these questions.
The bottom line: This was the most memorable debate of the cycle. Whether that actually affects the contours of the race, though, remains to be seen.
One caucus, one more debate (Feb. 25), one primary, and then it's ST-Day. (Z)
Is High Turnout Actually Bad for the Democrats?
There is a widely held assumption that the higher the turnout is in 2020, the better it is for the Democrats. Their general idea is that there are more Democrats who usually don't bother to show up and vote than there are Republicans. Consequently, if an election turns out a lot of low-involvement voters, it's likely that more of the additional voters will be Democrats than Republicans. The assumption is so widely held among both Democrats and Republicans that, for example, it came up multiple times during Wednesday's debate. "In order to beat Donald Trump, we're going to need the largest voter turnout in the history of the United States," declared Bernie Sanders. "I think the path is a high voter turnout" added Amy Klobuchar.
The nonpartisan think tank the Knight Foundation, which focuses on voter engagement and turnout, has just published a new study based on interviews with thousands of low-involvement voters. And the Knight study concludes that the conventional wisdom is not entirely correct. It is true, they believe, that higher turnout will give the Democrats a bigger victory in the popular vote. However, in swing states, low-involvement voters are generally more likely to be Republicans than Democrats. And so, in several states (AZ, FL, PA, VA), Knight thinks that high turnout will actually work in the GOP's favor. In others (MI, NV, NH, WI), it won't much matter. And there is only one state they looked at (GA) where high turnout is likely to boost the Democrats' odds.
It's an interesting study, and the Knight folks know what they are doing, so it should be taken seriously. That said, they are writing about a reality that does not actually exist. Neither party is trying to increase turnout among all voters; they are both trying to increase turnout among their bases. That means that the Party that picks the most salient issues to focus upon, and that does the best job with get out the vote operations, and that has the most effective advertising, absolutely will gain an advantage, including in swing states.
On a similar note, one might read the Knight study and conclude that the GOP is shooting itself in the foot with voter ID laws and purges of voter rolls and reduced polling place hours and the like. However, that is most certainly not the case. The effects of these various shenanigans are not distributed randomly. No, such trickery is specifically designed to weigh much more heavily on groups (the poor, women, students, people of color) who skew Democratic. So, even if reprehensible, these techniques are still entirely correct as pure, Machiavellian political strategy. (Z)
Florida Republicans Lose In Court, Again
The voters in Florida overwhelmingly agreed, back in 2018, that once felons had paid their debt to society (excepting murderers and sex offenders), they should regain their franchise. That thought did not please Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and the GOP-controlled state legislature. And so, speaking of pure, Machiavellian political strategy, the red team came up with a way to subvert the new rules, passing a law that says "ok, felons get their voting right back, but only once they pay the costs associated with their court case." Since that often means hundreds of thousands of dollars for folks who often don't even have hundreds of dollars, the new law effectively re-disenfranchised many felons again.
There is one small fly in the ointment, however. Well, two of them, actually. The first is that courts are allowed to cancel the fees, and many courts in Florida's bluest counties have been doing just that, en masse. The second is that you have to squint really hard not to see the new "pay your court debts" rule as an illegal poll tax. Three courts have looked at the matter, and all three have reached the same conclusion. The latest, a panel of three judges (2 Carter appointees and 1 Reagan appointee) ruled unanimously on Wednesday that the new law does not pass muster.
Naturally, the DeSantis administration will keep appealing for as long as they can. And while they may prevail, the odds appear long, while the time for resolution is growing short. The three-judge panel has not stayed its ruling on appeal, and so the law of the land in Florida right now is that most former felons get to vote. One way or another, it's looking like that will still be the case on Nov. 3. And we hardly need to remind you that the felons break pretty Democratic (65%/35%), and that statewide elections in Florida these days tend to be very, very close. (Z)
Assange Claims Trump Administration Tried to Bribe Him with a Pardon
Donald Trump is in the midst of a pardon spree this week, and the list could very well grow by one sometime later today or tomorrow (see below). On Wednesday, there was news about someone who apparently did not make the list. That would be Wikileaks founder and principal Julian Assange, whose lawyer said that the Trump administration, through an intermediary (an unnamed member of Congress) offered a pardon for any and all crimes committed if Assange would declare publicly and falsely that the Russians had nothing to do with the hacking of the DNC e-mails. The administration denies everything, of course.
When trying to judge who's telling the truth here, one is reminded of the line that former Yankees manager Billy Martin uttered about his boss George Steinbrenner and his star player Reggie Jackson: "One's a born liar, the other's convicted." On one hand, Assange is an inveterate liar and a sleazeball extraordinaire who might very well make something like this up in order to get some attention or stir the pot or whatever. On the other hand, this sounds like exactly the sort of deal that the President might propose.
Because Assange is such an unreliable source and witness, this news will presumably fade away very quickly. That said, the basic accusation here is quite similar to what happened with Ukraine: use of presidential power in exchange for personal electoral gain. And, if Assange is indeed telling the truth, there is at least one corroborating witness in the form of the member of Congress who served as go-between. So, it's at least possible this story proves to have legs. And if it does, and Assange's version of events is sustained, then it will raise some interesting questions about what other sorts of deals might have been behind this week's pardons. (Z)
The Stone Pardon is Coming
Today, barring an unexpected development, Judge Amy Berman Jackson will sentence Donald Trump associate Roger Stone to somewhere between 1 and 50 years in prison. At that point, the ball will be in the President's court. Politico has confirmed the worst-kept secret in Washington, namely that Trump is never going to allow his friend to spend a day in prison, and that a pardon will certainly be given.
It is at least possible that Trump would prefer to wait until after the election, but even six months in the joint is a lot, especially for a man in his upper 60s, like Stone. And given that the base remains in one of the President's pocket, and the GOP Senate majority remains in the other, there isn't all that much reason for him to wait. So, Stone's lawyers will probably try some legal maneuvering to keep their client free on appeal until after Nov. 3. And if that doesn't work, then Stone will likely get his pardon sometime this week. As one administration insider put it, "It's not a question of if. It's when." (Z)
Obama Will Keep His Cards Close to the Vest
There were some rumors swirling that Barack Obama was working behind the scenes to cool the jets of Sen. Bernie Sanders, fearing that the current Democratic frontrunner might be unelectable. New York magazine decided to look into the matter, and they report that it's not true. In fact, Obama has made a point of contacting the Sanders campaign and promising them that he is staying out of the primary and that he will support whomever the Democrats nominate.
It's hardly surprising that Obama is prepared to support anyone the Party might nominate. Given his views on Donald Trump, one struggles to think of anyone the Democrats could possibly nominate that Obama would not support. Roy Moore? Harvey Weinstein? Donald Trump Jr.? David Duke? Since none of those folks are under consideration, there's no issue here. What's most interesting about the New York story is the exact reason why Obama is staying the heck out of the primaries. It's not really because of precedent and ex-presidential decorum. Nor is it because he's "No Drama Obama." Nope, it's because he foresees a repeat of 2016, with the Party exiting the convention badly fractured. He wants to be available to ride in as a knight in shining armor who can unify Team Blue. If he appears to be playing favorites now, he won't be in a position to serve as healer and unifier. So, his lips will remain zipped until this summer. (Z)
Another Election, Another Challenger for Lipinski
IL-03 is a D+6 district, which means that it should remain squarely in Democratic hands, barring some very unexpected developments. However, many Democrats would prefer that those hands not belong to Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), who is one of the most conservative members of the Party's caucus. In particular, he is one of only three House Democrats who is anti-abortion.
There have been several serious attempts to primary the Representative, but none have been successful, as he's currently serving his eighth term, and will be shooting for nine in November. For this cycle, the left wing of the Party has recruited yet another progressive challenger. It's Marie Newman, who almost knocked off Lipinski in 2018 (missed by about 2,000 votes), and who was persuaded to give it another go in 2020. Newman has the backing of the usual suspects—Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), etc.
The primary, which is a month away, will be very interesting to watch. Has the Party moved far enough left, at this point, that there's no more room for the centrist white ethnic sorts that used to be their base in the Midwest? Do the various progressive groups have enough muscle to push anyone beyond a few superstars over the finish line? All will be revealed on March 17. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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