• Takeaways from the Debate
• Bloomberg Isn't the Anti-Trump Juggernaut He Seems to Be
• Warren Raises Almost $3 Million on Debate Night
• Wisconsin May Be the Democrats' Toughest Hill to Climb
• What about Arizona and North Carolina?
• Unicorn Sighted Far in the Distance
• Stone Wins
• Republicans Will Spend Millions to Fight Democrats' Lawsuits about Voting
This is not exactly a surprise, but Team Putin and his band of troublemakers are already working hard to disrupt the 2020 elections. On Thursday, it was reported that key lawmakers were briefed on the situation, and told that the hacking, attacks on election infrastructure, and social media propagandizing will be back in force this year. While part of the Russkies' plan is to re-elect Donald Trump, they are also interested in undermining the system in general, and shaking people's faith in democracy and/or the United States.
When Trump learned of this news, he shook his head sadly, and said that while he certainly hopes to be reelected, there are certain things that are even more important. And so, he pledged his full support, and the support of his administration, to rooting out the Russian attacks and protecting the integrity of America's elections.
Ha! You didn't really believe that, did you? Trump isn't Barack Obama. Or George W. Bush. Or any of the other presidents, who undoubtedly would have recognized this for the existential threat that it is, and would have responded accordingly. Trump's response was characteristically Trumpian: fury mixed with paranoia. Specifically, he was outraged that the members of Congress were informed of the threats, as if Congress is a co-equal branch of government or something. In particular, and this is where the paranoia comes in, Trump raged that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) was included in the briefing, as is apropos in his capacity as Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. The President believes that Schiff is already plotting and planning and scheming to use this information against him.
Of course, Schiff doesn't work for Trump, and there is little the President can do to make him suffer for his alleged bad behavior. The person who does work for Trump, however, is acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire, who approved the plan to update Congress. Apparently, he is under the impression that the director of national intelligence is supposed to keep the House and Senate intelligence committees informed about what's going on. In Trump's view, though, Maguire wasn't doing his job, he was being disloyal. And, as punishment, the acting DNI was advised that he would be replaced by Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, and that he would certainly not be considered for the permanent job.
Grenell's primary qualification for his new post is that he's unquestionably loyal to Trump. He has zero intelligence experience, and his tenure as ambassador could best be described as "bull in a china shop," as he has stepped on the toes of his hosts many times, using Twitter (highly inappropriately) to try to steer the policies of the German government. There is zero chance he will be approved by the Senate for the permanent DNI job, and it doesn't even appear that he'll actually be doing the acting job; Grenell will remain as ambassador until a new DNI is found.
We shall see how quickly the administration moves to find a real DNI (or a real acting DNI). On one hand, the job is very important. On the other hand, the longer the job remains vacant, the less that anyone will know about Russian interference on the part of Trump. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. (Z)
Yesterday we gave you our take on the debate. Here are the takeaways from other media outlets:NPR
- Bloomberg had an uneven performance
- Warren was the most aggressive she has been, but did it help?
- The centrists didn't unite
- Biden tried to say he's the most electable, really
- Sanders didn't expand his base, but chaos helps him
- The person all of this helped most is Trump
- Things got ugly and fast
- Bloomberg came close to going bust
- Warren had a very good night
- Sanders came off unscathed again
- The others saw Biden as an afterthought
- Klobuchar and Buttigieg tried to take each other down
- Bloomberg was the $60 billion punching bag
- It was not the era of good feelings
- Warren returned as a fighter
- There was a big generational divide
- Will the Klobentum continue?
- Did Biden revive his campaign?
- All the others painted Bloomberg as a Democratic Trump
- The biggest beneficiary of Bloomberg's presence was Warren
- Biden had one of his strongest debates
- Buttigieg and Klobuchar faced off in a personal way
- The big winner was Bernie Sanders
- Bloomberg had a bad night
- Warren lit the stage on fire
- Sanders was largely unscathed
- Buttigieg urged Democrats to "wake up"
- Klobuchar didn't hide her contempt for Buttigieg
- The stage was set for a contentious convention
- It was everybody vs. Bloomberg
- A feisty Warren came out swinging
- Experience clashed with vision
- Bloomberg made an uneven debate debut
- Electability remains the Democrats' top concern
- There was a bull's-eye on Bloomberg
- Bloomberg was full of sarcasm
- Sanders is the front runner and everyone treated him as such
- Warren and Biden are hanging on by their fingernails
- There was a pile-up among the centrists
- Everyone had the knives out for everyone
- Bloomberg had a rough debut
- Elizabeth Warren was aggressive
- Klobuchar and Buttigieg went after each other
- Bernie rolled on
- The Bloomberg bubble may have popped
- Sanders' momentum should continue
- The anti-Sanders movement is about to go into overdrive
- As desperation rises, candidates go on the attack
- Health care divides the field like none other
- Bloomberg stumbled
- Sanders' supporters were on trial
- Capitalism was also on trial
- Klobuchar took flack for not knowing who is president of Mexico
- Warren attacked
None of the bigger right-wing outlets, like Fox News, had lists of takeaways, so we'll have to make do with Yahoo (which is owned by Verizon and leans to the right), The Hill (which is owned by Republican Jimmy Finkelstein), and the Las Vegas Review-Journal (which is owned by Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson).
Some themes clearly emerge from the consensus, mostly:
- Bloomberg had a terrible night
- Warren came out fighting like never before
- Biden barely mattered
- Buttigieg and Klobuchar hate each other
- The big winners were Sanders and maybe Trump
But we won't know until Saturday evening (if at all), whether the debate meant anything, or was just full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. After all, after the first debate, when Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) lit into Joe Biden for opposing forced busing decades ago, the media declared her to be the next president. That seems rather unlikely now, although she could be the one after, if she is on the ticket with some guy pushing 80 and he wins and dies in office. And there is no shortage of guys pushing 80.
On a slightly different note, one of the best commentaries on the debate (but without a list of takeaways) came from Charlie Sykes, a former right-wing radio talk show host, but one who hates Trump with the intense heat of 1000 suns. He said that while the Democrats were mauling each other, none of them bothered to mention that after Trump's Senate trial, he launched a revenge tour that includes daily attacks on the rule of law, an open conflict with his hand-picked attorney general for not being enough of a toady, and a festival of pardons to sleazy cronies. In other words, the Democrats seem to view the word count on Amy Klobuchar's healthcare plan as more important than the breakdown of the republic. (V)
Helaine Olen of the Washington Post, wrote an interesting piece about Mike Bloomberg a few days before the debate. She makes the point that maybe Bloomberg isn't the Faustian bargain Democrats see him as. She argues that if Democrats think "Bloomberg would be far from the ideal president, but since he can beat Trump, we can live with him," they could be making a huge error. She starts out by pointing out that Bloomberg is a terrible performer and his remarks reek of contempt and condescension. Sure enough, in the debate, Bloomberg faulted Sanders for being a crummy socialist since he has three houses. Trump, for his many faults, is seen by his supporters as entertaining. He holds rallies where people cheer and yell for an hour and a half. It is inconceivable that Bloomberg could address a crowd for 90 minutes and have everyone cheering every third line, not even the five people left at the end of it. Not even if all of them were well-paid staffers.
Bloomberg's problems with stop-and-frisk, redlining, and NDAs are well known, but there are many more lurking just beneath the surface. Count on Trump's oppo team compiling lists of them. Bloomberg once said Chinese President Xi Jinping "is not a dictator." Shades of Jerry Ford's 1976 remark that "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe." In 2013, Bloomberg said: "No program to reduce the deficit makes any sense whatsoever unless you address the issue of entitlements, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security." Oops. That's actually the Republicans' position, not the Democrats'.
If the Democrats want to capture the energy of the #MeToo movement and challenge Trump about grabbing all the p**sy he could get, Bloomberg is not the ideal spokesman. If Democrats want to make the argument that plutocrats have too much power, with Bloomberg as the nominee, they concede that argument. He says he wants to raise taxes on the rich, but he has a decades-long track record opposing that idea. Olen concludes that the problem isn't that with Bloomberg, the Democrats would be selling their soul. The problem is they would be selling it for naught. (V)
As we and just about everyone else noted, Elizabeth Warren was the belle of the ball Wednesday evening. Viewers noticed too, and ponied up $2.8 million for her campaign on debate night alone. Wednesday was her biggest fundraising day of the whole campaign. No doubt more moola is on the way.
People wonder if debates have consequences. It turns out that they do, but not always as people expect. Amy Klobuchar picked up $12 million after her stunning performance in the eighth debate and Warren might end up approaching that. Money is the lifeblood of a campaign. Without it, the campaign dies. If Warren takes in a lot of money as a result of her debate performance, she will be able to continue running a serious campaign at least until Super Tuesday.
Also on the money front, Warren has reversed herself on taking super PAC money. Originally she railed against them and said she would not accept funds from them. Now she says that all the men in the race are either billionaires or have billionaires behind them. It's only the women who don't. So reluctantly, she is not opposed to having a super PAC help her now.
Technically, she has no say over whether any super PACs support her. By law, super PACs are independent of the candidates and make their own tactical decisions, so in theory she could say she doesn't want any super PACs helping her while one or more of them were running ads praising her to the moon. In practice, super PACs generally know what the candidates want even without direct communication (which is illegal). One way this happens is via the media. If a candidate were to give an interview to some major media outlet and say: "I intend to go to Arizona soon and tell the people there how much I believe solar power should be a major source of energy in the future and how Arizona should play a key role here" it gives a super PAC a pretty good idea of what kinds of ads to make and where to run them. (V)
In 2016, Donald Trump won three states that are sort of in the Midwest and that had been Democratic for years: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Virtually everyone expects all three to be battlegrounds this year. Accordingly, Quinnipiac University just polled them to see how Trump and the Democrats are doing there. Here are the results:
|Joe Biden||Biden +4||Biden +8||Trump +7|
|Michael Bloomberg||Bloomberg +5||Bloomberg +6||Trump +8|
|Pete Buttigieg||Buttigieg +5||Buttigieg +6||Trump +8|
|Amy Klobuchar||Klobuchar +1||Klobuchar +7||Trump +11|
|Bernie Sanders||Sanders +5||Sanders +4||Trump +7|
|Elizabeth Warren||Warren +2||Warren +3||Trump +10|
To a first approximation, the candidates don't matter. All that matters is the little (D) or (R) after the candidate's name. Right now, every Democrat would win Michigan and Pennsylvania and every Democrat would lose Wisconsin. So why were all the Democrats beating each other over the head with baseball bats Wednesday evening? Hint: Each of them would like to be president, despite the fact that it is a nerve-wracking job and over 100 million people will hate you every time you have something for breakfast that they don't like.
Suppose the Democrats pick off Michigan and Pennsylvania but not Wisconsin, and everything else remains the same as in 2016, then what? Hillary Clinton won 232 electoral votes and Trump won 306. This is not what the final electoral-vote score was because there were 10 faithless electors in 2016, three of whose electoral votes were later invalidated. The Supreme Court has a case pending on whether states can punish electors for not voting as their state did, but until we have a decision there, let us assume all electors vote as their state did.
Then if the Democrats pick off Michigan and Pennsylvania but not Wisconsin, they end up with 268 electoral votes to Trump's 270 and Trump will be reelected. However, if the Democrats can pick off one electoral vote in either ME-01 or NE-02, it would be a tie and the House would pick the president, with each state having one vote. The Senate would pick the veep. If the Democrats win the Senate, we could end up with a Donald Trump/Stacey Abrams administration, or something equally fun. (V)
The importance of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is clear, as discussed above. But what about North Carolina and Arizona, to mention a couple of other states? In particular, if a Democrat wins the White House but Republicans hold the Senate, the president may have to get down on his or her knees and beg Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to approve his or her cabinet. Getting judges and justices through the Senate will probably be out of the question. So if the Democrats want to actually govern, they need to hold the House, which they probably will, and get at least 50 seats in the Senate. Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball has now changed its rating on the Alabama Senate race from leans Republican to likely Republican on the strength of a poll showing child molester Roy Moore coming in last in the Republican primary. Basically, against any Republican other than Moore, Jones is a dead man walking, so the Democrats would need to flip four GOP Senate seats to get to 50.
This is where the presidential race and Senate races interact. There is an increasing tendency for voters to vote a straight ticket. Anyone who votes for a Democrat for president in, say, Arizona, is likely to also vote for Mark Kelly (D) for the Senate there. Thus, a key question concerning the Senate is which presidential candidate does best in the key Senate states of North Carolina, Arizona, Colorado, and Maine. A strong Democratic performance in the presidential race in these four states could deliver the Senate to the blue team. Georgia has two Senate races and could also be the site of close races.
Sabato's Crystal Ball has taken a close look at the Senate from the perspective of who has coattails. For some of the key Senate seats, there are polls of the presidential race, which could tell us something about the Senate races. In particular, in Arizona, Joe Biden is +0.3 points over Donald Trump, which is good news for Senate candidate Mark Kelly. In contrast, Bernie Sanders is -5 points there, which is good news for Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ). In other words, if Biden is the nominee, Kelly has a good shot of winning the Senate seat. If Sanders is the nominee, McSally can probably keep her job.
Another state for which there is data is North Carolina. Biden is +3.4 there and Sanders is +1.0. This means that a Biden candidacy increases the chance the Democrats can knock off Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). With Sanders on top of the ticket, Tillis has a better chance of surviving.
Similarly, in Georgia, Biden is +1.6 and Sanders is -1.0, and this could affect two Senate races.
Sabato has changed his rating on Colorado from toss-up to leans Democratic. The item linked to above has a detailed analysis of the Colorado Senate by congressional district since there hasn't been a lot of polling of Democrats vs. Trump in Colorado. Another state with a hot Senate race that hasn't had a lot of general-election polling is Maine. As more general-election polls come in for other states with Senate races, more analysis will be possible. (V)
Almost every election year, early in the year, there are people who claim to have spotted that political unicorn, the brokered convention, on the horizon. The last time that actually happened was in 1952, when both parties had one. But that was 68 years ago. True to form, we are already being treated this year to stories of a brokered convention, and how it would be a nightmare for the Democrats.
In early 2016, when the Republicans had 17 candidates and were staging both main debates and kiddie debates, similar stories were being written, although there is a big difference between the Republicans in 2016 and the Democrats now. Many (but not all) Republican primaries are winner-take-all, so when Donald Trump won Florida with 46% of the vote on March 15, 2016, he got all 99 delegates. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) got 27% of the vote and zero delegates. Getting all the delegates with a plurality of the votes in some states can move a candidate to a majority of the total number of delegates pretty fast.
Democrats don't do winner-take-all. Every primary and caucus awards delegates proportionally, often by congressional district or state senate district. That makes it very hard for a candidate to clean up big time. Imagine a district with 4 delegates. Now imagine that Bernie Sanders gets 35% of the vote, Joe Biden gets 25% of the vote, and everyone else is below the 15% cutoff, and thus gets no delegates. The delegates are then divided up with Sanders getting 35/60 (58%) and Biden getting 25/60 (42%). Doing some math, we see Sanders gets 0.58 * 4 = 2.3 delegates and Biden gets 0.42 * 4 = 1.7 delegates. But delegates are actual people who will go the Democratic National Convention. Fractional people are not allowed. So the end result of Sanders' substantial victory is that both he and Biden get two delegates each. It is hard to rack up 1,990 delegates if a big win doesn't get you more delegates than the other guy. This process is what could very well lead to a brokered convention. So, just because talk of a brokered convention is cheap, and is an almost-every-election phenomenon, don't dismiss the possibility out of hand this year.
Oh, and speaking of Democratic nightmares, here's the obvious (and, currently, most plausible) one: Bernie Sanders goes into the convention with a plurality of delegates, but not a majority. Thanks to the Democratic Party's shiny new rules, adopted in response to Sanders' supporters anger in 2016, the superdelegates will sit on the sidelines until the second round of voting. Obviously, if nobody has a majority heading into the convention, nobody is likely to get a majority on the first ballot. So, the superdelegates would get their say and, very probably, would swing the thing. Inasmuch as the superdelegates are longtime party insiders, they are not terribly likely to swing it in the direction of a Democratic socialist. That means a moderate like Joe Biden or Amy Klobuchar or Pete Buttigieg entering the convention in second- or third-place in the delegate count and walking away with the Party's nod, thanks to "the establishment." Were this to come to pass, it would likely make the Hillary vs. Bernie tensions from 2016 look like a game of patty cake. Many of Sanders' supporters would be furious and stay home on election day or vote for a third party, thus reelecting Trump. The recriminations after the election would tear the Democratic Party apart. (V)
Well, relatively speaking. Originally the Dept. of Justice wanted to put Roger Stone away for 7-9 years. But that was before Donald Trump tweeted that putting his good friend in prison for so long was a miscarriage of justice, and the Department changed its mind and asked for a shorter sentence. The interference of Trump and AG William Barr prompted the four prosecutors involved in the case to drop it. Two of them even left government service in protest.
Yesterday, Trump got what he wanted. Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Stone to less than half of the low end of the original request, namely 40 months, despite Stone's having been convicted on seven felony charges. Stone had the opportunity to address the Judge, but chose not to. Jackson, however, chose to address Stone and told him how serious his crimes were, even though the relatively mild sentence for seven serious crimes belies that. She also unloaded on Stone's defense team for acting so dismissively.
The sentence is merely the end of the beginning. Stone is asking for a new trial because, he says, the jurors had a preconceived bias about him. In addition, Stone and his lawyers are almost certainly lobbying Trump for a pardon, something Trump seems to hand out like candy. However, Trump's campaign manager, Brad Parscale, would no doubt like to delay giving out any more high-profile pardons until after the election. If Stone can delay going to prison through legal maneuvering until November, then Trump will be spared from having to give the Democrats campaign fodder until it doesn't matter any more. If Trump loses the election, he can always pardon Stone the day after it, if need be. And all of this said, Parscale's political instincts are good and well, but Trump is an impatient man and he likes to make grand gestures that please the base. It's entirely possible that any day between now and Nov. 3, Parscale could awaken to find that the President has tweeted out that Stone will be pardoned by the end of the day. (V)
Republican-controlled legislatures in many states have passed laws making it harder to vote. There are many variations on this theme, such as voter ID requirements that hurt people without government-issued photo ID (largely poor people who tend to vote for Democrats). In some cases, the laws may appear nonpartisan, but strongly favor Republicans, such as the one in Texas that allows gun permits to be used for voting but not state-issued student registration cards at state universities.
Not surprisingly, Democratic-oriented groups have sued to have laws that limit voting overturned. The latest development here is a decision by Donald Trump's reelection campaign and the RNC (which are almost indistinguishable) to put $10 million into the battle to beat back the Democrats' lawsuits. Republicans claim (with zero evidence) that tighter voting restrictions are needed to prevent fraud.
In particular, the campaign and the RNC are now challenging a Democratic lawsuit in Michigan that asserts that the Michigan legislature passed unconstitutional laws putting a severe burden on minorities, seniors, voters with disabilities, and low-income voters. The Trump campaign and the RNC want this lawsuit to fail. RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said: "These actions are dangerous, and we will not stand idly by while Democrats try to sue their way to victory in 2020." In response, Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, the Democratic group bringing the lawsuit, said: "We will not stop fighting voter suppression efforts until every barrier to the ballot box in our most vulnerable communities is torn down."
In addition to this specific case, the RNC said it would use the money it has allocated to train and deploy an army of lawyers in the battleground states to be ready for early voting, Election Day, and any recounts that occur. (V)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb20 Is High Turnout Actually Bad for the Democrats?
Feb20 Florida Republicans Lose In Court, Again
Feb20 Assange Claims Trump Administration Tried to Bribe Him with a Pardon
Feb20 The Stone Pardon is Coming
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Feb20 Another Election, Another Challenger for Lipinski
Feb19 Scales of Justice Grow Even More Unbalanced
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Feb18 Trump Is Affecting Schoolchildren, and Not for the Better
Feb18 Disingenuous or Dimwitted?
Feb18 Today's Ratfu**ing News
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Feb18 The Bromance Appears to Be Over
Feb17 Over 1,000 Former Dept. of Justice Officials Call on Barr to Resign
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Feb17 Kellyanne Conway Slams Bloomberg for Sexist Remarks
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Feb17 Cracks Are Appearing in Biden's South Carolina Firewall
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Feb17 California's Newest Export: Blue Voters
Feb17 Presidents' Day Quiz
Feb16 Sunday Mailbag
Feb15 Saturday Q&A
Feb14 Barr Lashes Out?
Feb14 Donald Trump, Man of Steel
Feb14 Senate Pushes Back
Feb14 It's Crunch Time for Bloomberg
Feb14 Nevada Unveils New Caucus Procedures
Feb14 Nevada Polling Update
Feb14 Doug Jones Is in Deep Trouble
Feb14 Virginia Assembly Approves NPVIC
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Feb13 Where to From Here?
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Feb13 Culinary Union Trashes Sanders
Feb13 The Accidental Rivals Face Off
Feb13 Patrick Throws in the Towel
Feb13 Stone's Case May Affect Giuliani's Fate
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