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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Do as I Say, Not as I Do
      •  Collins "Open to Witnesses" in Impeachment Trial
      •  Lewandowski Is Out
      •  Trump 2019 in Review, Part I: The Worst Weeks
      •  Trump 2019 in Review, Part II: The Lows
      •  Trump 2019 in Review, Part III: The Highs
      •  Back to the Future, Part II: 2020 Predictions

Happy New Year! Allow us to take this opportunity to thank everyone for reading. Your time and interest are appreciated, as are your comments, questions, and corrections. We respond to as many e-mails as we can, but even those that we don't get to are definitely read.

We would also like to single out for special thanks the people who assist us on a daily basis; the folks who kindly volunteer to copy edit every day, and those who work behind the scenes on technical matters, whether it is maintaining the servers or inputting polling data or helping with programming.

And now, buckle up, because the 2020 is going to be a bumpy ride.

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

At the moment, the Washington Post's official motto is "Democracy Dies in Darkness." Not bad, but maybe they should borrow from the Pinkertons and change it to "We Never Sleep," because even in the dog days of the political calendar, the Post's staff is still plugging away, and digging up dirt on Donald Trump.

Tuesday's news, and the Post's last revelation of the year for 2019, was that Trump Winery fired seven undocumented immigrant employees on Monday. This is news, in part, because the immigrants' status was clearly ignored when they were originally hired. However, it's also news because the presence of those employees was brought to the attention of the Trump Organization...11 months ago (but before the labor-intensive harvest season).

Undoubtedly, defenders of Trump will say that he had nothing to do with this, he's busy running the country, yada, yada, yada. Nonsense. It's probably true that he was not directly involved in the hiring, retention, or firing of these seven employees. However, as the leader of a closely held private company, he absolutely sets the expectations and the tone for the organization. And any Trump Organization employee, even the mid-level managers, undoubtedly learned long ago that hiring undocumented immigrants (who are cheaper than citizens) is encouraged. Trump has made frequent use of such employees for decades, on his construction projects, at his resorts, and (obviously) at his winery. Heck, he even married someone who flouted U.S. immigration law. So even if he did not give a direct order to hire (or retain) these particular employees, he absolutely bears responsibility.

Recall how the Republicans in the House carried on for many months about how then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was responsible for the four Americans who died in Benghazi—even though she was thousands of miles away when they were killed? The Republicans kept saying that since she was in charge of the organization, she was responsible for everything that happened in it, no matter how far down the tree. That concept seems to have been curiously forgotten now.

There are two reasons that this looks bad for Trump. The first is that it makes him a hypocrite, since he has not only broadly condemned undocumented immigrants, his administration has specifically raided employers who use them. It's like when a "Christian family values" Republican gets caught cheating on his wife (particularly with another man), or a "pro-environment" Democrat is caught driving a Hummer or a GMC Sierra or a Toyota Tundra, or some other gas guzzler.

The second problem here, meanwhile, is that it underscores the phoniness of Trump's campaign rhetoric. There isn't much good you can say about Stephen Miller, but at very least, he really believes his anti-immigrant rhetoric. The President, by contrast, clearly does not. He knows full well, like the great majority of residents of cosmopolitan cities, that immigrants are key cogs in the economy, and that the vast, vast majority are decent folks and not scary, violent criminals. So, when he talks about the border wall, or Mexican rapists, or MS-13, that's all it is—talk. (Z)

Collins "Open to Witnesses" in Impeachment Trial

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) appeared on Maine Public Radio on Monday, and was asked (naturally) about the upcoming impeachment trial. She was broadly critical of the extent to which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is in "lockstep" with the White House, and also said that she is "open to witnesses" being called in the trial.

Collins, of course, is facing a very difficult re-election campaign, one complicated by her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice. There is no pressing need for her to appear on Maine Public Radio, or any other outlet, during her winter break. She was there because she wanted to be, and because it was a big enough outlet to make headlines, but not so big as to publicly embarrass anyone. Her target was an audience of one, namely McConnell, and the message (translated from senator-speak) was: "If I am going to give you my vote to acquit, it can't look like a sham trial." With Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) having expressed similar sentiments, and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) another likely fly in the ointment, the Majority Leader has a lot to chew on before he goes back to work next week. (Z)

Lewandowski Is Out

Corey Lewandowski, by virtue of his association with Donald Trump, has pretty high name recognition. Plus, he could likely call on the President to stage a campaign event or two on his behalf. With these two "advantages" in his hip pocket, the former Trump campaign manager gave serious thought to running for the Senate in his adoptive home state of New Hampshire, even using his appearance before the House Judiciary Committee to promote his would-be bid.

As it turns out, though, there are a few flies in the ointment. The incumbent Democrat, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), is pretty popular in the Granite State (54% approve, 34% disapprove, putting her 20 points above water). Donald Trump, not so much (41% approve, 56% disapprove, putting him 15 points under water). Lewandowski is none-too-popular, either, in part because of his close association with Trump, in part because he's seen as a carpetbagger, and in part because his brand of Republicanism doesn't align all that well with the brand embraced by GOP New Hampshirites. Consequently, he was polling at only 33%...among Republicans. That's about 15% overall, which is not exactly enough to win an election. So, on Monday, Lewandowski announced that he won't run after all.

This probably doesn't affect Shaheen's chances all that much; she's an overwhelming favorite against anyone the GOP puts up, with the possible exception of Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH), but he's running for reelection to his current job. Without Lewandowski, the Republican field includes a couple of unknowns, as well as Bill O'Brien, former Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. O'Brien is the clear favorite to be Shaheen's victim in November. (Z)

Trump 2019 in Review, Part I: The Worst Weeks

With Donald Trump, the scandals and setbacks tend to come in waves, such that it is very easy to find many op-eds and other articles wondering "was this Trump's worst week?" At the start of this year, we ran an item listing the possible candidates for that "honor" in 2018. Now, let's do it again. Here are the 10 best candidates for that title from 2019, in our view, listed in chronological order:

  • January 21–27: Trump makes a poorly received visit to the MLK. Jr. Memorial; Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) play a high-profile game of chicken about the scheduling of the State of the Union address and Pelosi wins; the partial government shutdown ends after 35 days with no extra border wall funding and the majority of Americans blaming the President.

  • February 25–March 3: Just about everyone (Congress, former national security officials, the media) denounces Trump's use of "national emergency" legislation to reroute money toward building the border wall; New York State announces it will try to acquire a copy of Trump's tax returns; former Trump fixer Michael Cohen spills his guts before the Senate Intelligence Committee; the second North Korea summit ends prematurely and unsuccessfully; Israeli PM and Trump ally Benjamin Netanyahu is indicted on corruption charges; news breaks that Jared Kushner did not qualify for a security clearance and the President rammed it through nonetheless.

  • May 20–26: Several court rulings about Trump's personal financial records go against him; Trump engages in a public war of words with Fox News because he doesn't like their polling results; Rep. Justin Amash (MI) decides he's had enough Trump and leaves the GOP; Trump storms out of infrastructure meeting with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

  • July 1–7: Trump visits North Korea and gives Kim Jong-Un a photo-op but gets little in return; Ivanka Trump embarrasses herself/the U.S. with her presumptuousness at the Osaka Summit; Trump administration surrenders on census citizenship question; Trump gives up on his military parade; Mike Pence's trip to New Hampshire is canceled as he is mysteriously summoned back to the White House.

  • July 15–21: Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta is forced to resign due to sweetheart plea deal he gave to Jeffrey Epstein while serving as U.S. Attorney; Trump goes on racist Twitter rant telling four female representatives to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came" (they are all from the U.S.); Iran and Trump argue publicly about whether or not the U.S. actually downed an Iranian drone.

  • August 5–11: Fallout from mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton; Trump nomination of completely unqualified Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) as Director of National Intelligence goes up in flames; trade war with China heats up; trade war with Venezuela begins; for the first time, House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) publicly admits he's conducting an impeachment investigation; Jeffrey Epstein commits suicide and Trump suggests the Clintons are behind it.

  • September 9–15: Trump forced to back off plans to meet with Taliban leaders at Camp David; it is revealed that Trump has been steering government business toward his resorts in Scotland and Ireland; NSA John Bolton is shown the door; Saudi Arabia is bombed by Iran-aligned Houthis.

  • October 7–13: Ukrainepot Dome gains momentum; Trump announces surprise withdrawal from Syria, angering nearly everyone; Turkey invades Syria; Rudy Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman are arrested; Fox News poll reveals that 51% of Americans want to see Trump impeached and removed from office; Trump loses several rulings related to his tax returns; former ambassador to Ukraine Masha Yovanovitch becomes the first Trump administration insider to speak to House committees.

  • October 14–20: A parade of Ukrainegate witnesses appear before House committees; existence of "Three Amigos" revealed for the first time; Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney publicly admits to quid pro quo; ProPublica reveals that Trump may have falsified loan documents.

  • November 18–24: Trump gets "early" physical that clearly was not a physical; Trump unexpectedly overturns 40 years of U.S. policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank; Ambassador to EU Gordon Sondland changes his tune and tells Congress there was a quid pro quo; Trump ally Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) revealed to have Ukraine conflict of interest; Navy Secretary Richard Spencer is fired in the midst of controversy over pardon for disgraced Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher.

We would suggest that this exercise has two purposes. The first is that it reminds us of how very much chaos surrounds the Trump administration on a near-daily basis; generally the scandals and setbacks of any given week would be a good year's worth for any other president, and they span many different areas (Trump's finances, White House staffing, Ukraine, poor relations with Congress, etc.). The second is that the disasters come so fast and furious that previous setbacks quickly evaporate. How many items above did you read and say, "Oh yeah, I forgot about that!" (Z)

Trump 2019 in Review, Part II: The Lows

And now, let's look at the basic question from above, except through a slightly different lens. As we did last year, we're going to list the 10 most damaging things that happened to the Trump administration this year, in our view, along with our reasoning. As with last year, the items are listed from least bad (#10) to most bad (#1), and must have unfolded over 48 hours or less (so we're not comparing apples to oranges):

  1. Sep. 5; The Fake Alabama Hurricane: This was not especially consequential, long-term, and yet it will likely find its way into a lot of history books as an illustration of the man and his character. On this day, Donald Trump misspoke and said that the state of Alabama was in Hurricane Dorian's path. Utterly unable to admit even the smallest errors, he doubled and tripled down on the claim, eventually producing "proof" in the form of a map that had been clumsily doctored with a Sharpie.

  2. Apr. 6-7; Saturday Night Massacre v2.0: In 2019, as in 2018 and 2017, there was a lot of turnover in the Trump administration. However, even by the standards of Team Trump, the weekend of April 6 was unusually tumultuous as DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and four of her underlings (the DHS Under Secretary for Management, the Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Director of the U.S. Secret Service, and the DHS General Counsel) were all sent packing. The issue, in essence, was that they were not willing to impose immigration policies as harsh as the White House wanted.

  3. Feb. 15; National Emergency: Mexico is not interested in paying for the border wall, as it turns out, and neither is Congress. So, Trump decided to declare a "national emergency" and to essentially fund wall construction by fiat. This legally dubious maneuver was widely condemned, perhaps most loudly by Republicans who fear that the next Democratic president will decide that global warming, or voter ID laws, or gun violence, or lack of health care for some Americans are "national emergencies." Court challenges are still pending, but most decisions thus far have gone against the President.

  4. Jun. 12; My Ears are Open: Sitting for an interview with ABC News, Donald Trump was asked what he would do if a foreign agent approached him with damaging information about a political rival. "I think you might want to listen. There isn't anything wrong with listening," he said, while also conceding that he wouldn't necessarily call the FBI to let them know what had happened. Thus far, the President has suffered little damage from his open acknowledgment that he's willing to violate U.S. law, and to subvert the law enforcement establishment. However, this is one of those things that could come back to haunt him, eventually.

  5. Jun. 20; Attack on Iran Aborted: The United States was locked and loaded, and ready to strike Iran as punishment for shooting down an American drone. Then, with just minutes left, Trump aborted the attack. This is not objectionable, in and of itself, but the problem is that the White House couldn't quite explain what happened, and what caused Trump to change his mind. The upshot, to the extent that we ever got one, is that either the Pentagon withheld information from the President, or else the President wasn't paying close enough attention during his briefings. Neither explanation gives one confidence.

  6. Nov. 15; Stone Convicted: A number of Trump acolytes were sent to Club Fed this year, but none were more significant than Roger Stone. This is a story that's still unfolding, but there are at least two questions still to be answered. First, will Trump use the pardon power (and if so, when)? Second, if Trump doesn't use the pardon power, and the sentence is stiff, will Stone be tempted to sing like a canary? Because he definitely knows things.

  7. Nov. 5; Bevin Defeated: A number of Republicans in red states held Trump close in 2019 and lost nonetheless; the most prominent of those was former Kentucky governor Matt Bevin. There were a number of reasons that Bevin lost, many of them having nothing to do with the President. Nonetheless, his defeat (along with those of other Trump-loving Republicans, like Louisiana gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone) has Republicans thinking, at least in private, about exactly how closely they want to align themselves with Trump. The impeachment trial will make that calculation even more tricky.

  8. Apr. 18; Mueller Reports: As with his admission that he'd listen to a foreigner with dirt to share, Trump appears to have skated on the Mueller Report, at least for now. However, the odds that it eventually comes back to haunt him are very high. It could play a role in the impeachment trial. It could cost him votes in November. And it could lead to his being indicted once he leaves office. This story is not over, in other words.

  9. Jan. 3; The House Flips: The Democrats' recapture of the House of Representatives, something that seemed unthinkable just a year earlier, was nothing but bad news for Trump. First, the blue wave that made it possible was so large that it must necessarily be interpreted as a rebuke of him and his policies (while at the same time portending the possible long-term loss of the suburbs for the GOP). Second, anything Trump wanted to do from Jan. 3 onward had to have Democratic approval. Third, the Democratic takeover put Nancy Pelosi back in charge, and she's a vastly more skillful political operator than the President. Fourth, the vast backlog of bills that House Democrats have passed and that Senate Republicans have sat on will give the Party much to run on in 2020.

  10. Dec. 18; Impeachment: Exactly three months after the existence of a mysterious whistleblower report was made public on Sep. 18, the House adopted two articles of impeachment against Trump, one for abuse of power and one for obstruction of Congress. Not only are the trial and its aftermath going to dominate much of this year's election cycle, but this will almost certainly be the thing that Trump is most remembered for once he leaves office.

So, there it is. One can only imagine what the list will look like next year (though see below for some guesses). (Z)

Trump 2019 in Review, Part III: The Highs

Needless to say, no president's tenure is made up entirely of failures. Well, ok, maybe James Buchanan's tenure, but besides him. Although Donald Trump surely had more bad days than good in 2019, he did still have his share of successes and victories. Here are the top 10, as we see them; the same rules apply as for the list of "lows":

  1. Dec. 19; Van Drew Defects: As a practical matter, one member of the House among 435 doesn't matter all that much. However, the PR value of Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) becoming Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ) is significant, and will undoubtedly be used extensively by Trump and other Republicans as "proof" that impeachment is a sham.

  2. Aug. 1; Fed Cuts Interest Rates: It is unlikely that the Fed was responding to the considerable pressure being exerted by Trump. Regardless, their mid-summer cut of interest rates goosed the economy, and increased the odds that things will remain copacetic through next year, which Trump needs if he is going to be reelected.

  3. Jul. 27; SCOTUS Lifts the Moratorium on Wall Funds: Once all the legal dust is settled, there is a very good chance that Trump's "national emergency" declaration and reallocation of funds are both struck down. But in the interim, the Supreme Court allowed him to move forward. That means that at least a little bit of wall will be built, giving the President badly needed photo-ops. Arguably, some new wall construction (even if only a few miles) is even more important to him than a good economy. Note also that Trump did not have anywhere near enough "good" weeks for a counterpart to our "bad weeks" item above. However, the last week of July was very strong for him; in addition to the SCOTUS decision and Mueller testimony (see below), he also got a new Secretary of Defense through the Senate, and saw Boris Johnson take over as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

  4. Feb. 28; Korea Summit Fails: It may seem strange for this to appear on the list of "highs." However, when it was clear that negotiations with Kim Jong-Un were going nowhere, Trump did the right thing and walked away, despite the fact that he badly wanted this feather in his cap. Generally speaking, the President does what is best for him personally and politically; what is best for the country as a whole rarely seems to be the top priority. However, if one wants 2019's premiere example of Trump (apparently) putting the good of the country ahead of the good of the Donald, this is it.

  5. Dec. 10; NAFTA v2.0: It's properly known as the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, and it's the only major trade agreement Trump—the alleged master negotiator—has pulled off (though stay tuned for a possible deal with China early this year). The President will campaign on this success; the only reason it's not higher on the list is that the final document actually incorporates Democratic priorities more than Republican ones, and every other GOP politician in the country will have trouble running on it for that reason.

  6. Jul. 24; Mueller Testifies: This could have been disastrous for Trump. However, because Mueller played things so close to the vest, and was only willing to make indirect statements, the President took very little damage. This could, and probably will, come back to haunt him long-term (see above), but for now a tepid Mueller appearance was the very best he could have hoped for.

  7. Dec. 14; SCOTUS Agrees to Hear Trump Tax Cases: Who knows what the Supreme Court will decide when it comes to the three cases, all centered on the President's tax returns, before them. The law certainly appears to be strongly against Trump. Still, the Court's willingness to hear the cases gives him some hope, and definitely buys him some time.

  8. Dec. 13; Big Johnson Win: At very least, Boris Johnson's big victory in the U.K. parliamentary elections means that a major Trump ally will be in office for many years. At most, it portends success for Trump in 2020. We don't buy that, but some do.

  9. Feb. 14; Bill Barr Confirmed: Donald Trump would prefer that the Attorney General function in the same way as every other lawyer he's ever hired, as a henchman and a "fixer." Jeff Sessions was not willing to do that, at least not to the President's satisfaction, so he had to go. In Barr, by contrast, Trump has exactly the guy he wants. Since being approved, the new AG has paid handsome dividends, helping to spin the Mueller Report away, and also to keep the Hillary e-mail and Steele dossier conspiracies alive.

  10. Oct. 27; Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Killed: Undoubtedly the great accomplishment of 2019; the world is a safer place without Baghdadi in it. That said, ask Barack Obama about how many voters' minds are changed by the elimination of a major terrorist leader.

We have to be honest; the toughest part about the "lows" list was cutting it down to 10, while the hardest part about this list was getting it up to 10. Next year, each of those problems figures to be even more acute. (Z)

Back to the Future, Part II: 2020 Predictions

And speaking of next year; let's now look into the crystal ball. First, here are some predictions from various folks in the media:

  • Eli Yokley, Morning Consult: "[Z]ero Senate Republicans vote to convict Trump."

  • Carl P. Leubsdorf, Dallas Morning News: "Senate Republicans reject both House impeachment articles, but four Republicans join the 47 Democrats to provide a majority voting [that] the president obstructed Congress."

  • Julian Zelizer, CNN: "After the Senate votes on impeachment, Trump is very likely to double down on his bad behavior. He will continue to use the office as a vehicle for personal gain and he will go after his opponents with hammer and tong. We will inevitably see the most ruthless presidential campaign in American history, with the possibility of public policy and law enforcement being used as political weapons to help the incumbent."

  • Bradley Blakeman, The Hill: "My prediction is that Democrats will keep their majority in the House, Republicans will keep their majority in the Senate, and Trump will be reelected. The reason is simple: Republicans have a record to run on, while Democrats have overreached and are out of touch with the nation's values, direction and desires."

  • Stephen L. Carter, Bloomberg: "In the presidential election, the Democrats will flip Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin but the Republicans will flip New Hampshire. The result will be a tie in the Electoral College. Under Article II, section 1, of the Constitution, the choice must then be made by the House of Representatives. Democrats cheer the perspicacity of the Framers until they realize that when the House sits to break an electoral tie, each state gets one vote. At that point Democrats remember that the Framers were white supremacists trying to protect slavery, and that the opinions of such monsters should play no role in contemporary governance."

  • Fortune Magazine Staff: "No one got more of a shock in 2016 than the pollsters. Whether response bias, pollster bias, or lying respondents were to blame, the industry as a whole got it dead wrong when it came to predicting the outcome of the presidential election. Despite attempts to make surveys more representative, adjust weighting, and tweak methodologies (most are still conducted by landline), the polls will be wrong again. Pundits will say pollsters focused on the wrong thing, putting too much weight on the non-college-educated white voters who helped elect Trump in 2016."

  • John Ziegler, Mediaite: "A Biden vs. Trump general election will essentially be a repeat of 2016, only with Biden positioned to out-perform Hillary in the key states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, but with Trump now having the advantage of incumbency and an economy which is perceived to be excellent. In other words, barring a legitimate "black swan" event (I am sure there will be many dramatic plot twists which will result in very little polling movement), Biden will win the popular vote fairly easily, but the Electoral College tally will be close, possibly extremely close."

  • Raul Reyes, CNN: "No malarkey here. Joe Biden will be elected president of the United States, propelled by his appeal to Midwestern voters. But along the way, Biden will certainly 'Feel the Bern' from the robust Sanders campaign."

  • Stu Varney, Fox Business Channel: "I think this is a split party, I think Michael Bloomberg is the nominee, and I think Trump wins big time in November."

  • Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times: "If [Trump] loses the 2020 election, he will pardon convicted criminals Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort on his way out. If he wins the election, he will pardon convicted criminals Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort on his way back in."

  • Kurt Schlichter, TownHall: "We will see the President pardon the victims of Deep State vendettas designed to overturn the election of 2016. General Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, and Paul Manafort will all be cleared."

And now, we'll add a few predictions of our own:

  • The single-largest one-day drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Index came on February 5, 2018, when it dropped 1,175 points. Sometime this summer (July-September), that record will be broken.

  • Donald Trump will skip at least one of the three presidential debates.

  • Trump will develop some sort of significant health problem that cannot be hidden from the American public.

  • Rudy Giuliani will be indicted.

  • A one-time Trump loyalist will go full John Dean, and tell everything he or she knows. Former NSA John Bolton is the favorite to be that person, but don't sleep on Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, or one of half a dozen former cabinet secretaries. Or, for that matter, Giuliani.

  • Pennsylvania and Michigan will return to the Democratic column.

  • Democrats currently hold four U.S. Senate seats in the 14 states of the Solid South (two in VA, one in WV, and one in AL). They will still hold four when the year is out.

  • Trump will blow a gasket on Twitter when Greta Thunberg is named the winner of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.

Yesterday, we had an item looking at how we (and others) did with 2019 predictions; check back in 365 days to see how the 2020 predictions worked out. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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