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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Says He Will Sign China Trade Deal on January 15
      •  Trump-Critical Pieces by Christians Are Piling Up
      •  An Under-the-radar Sort of Gerrymander
      •  Beginning-of-the-Year Democratic Polling
      •  Beginning-of-the-Year Democratic Power Rankings
      •  Q4 Fundraising Numbers Are Trickling In
      •  Elections to Watch in 2020

Trump Says He Will Sign China Trade Deal on January 15

Donald Trump's administration has apparently been making progress in its negotiations with the Chinese government. The President has boasted that a deal is imminent and, over the weekend, said he would affix his signature on Jan. 15, when a group of Chinese dignitaries visit the White House.

The deal reportedly covers a bunch of nuts-and-bolts type issues, like Chinese rules that force American companies to share their technology, intellectual property protection, and prohibitions on currency manipulation. According to U.S. officials, the Chinese government will agree to buy an additional $200 billion in American goods, including $80 billion in farm products.

And now, the qualifiers:

  • Many details remain fuzzy, and there's a big difference between—for example—"prohibitions on currency manipulation" and "prohibitions on currency manipulation that have actual teeth."

  • The Chinese have not confirmed the amounts involved.

  • Even if the Chinese are willing (or say they are willing) to purchase billions more in American goods, it's sometimes not that simple. There are some products where Americans can't produce much more than they already are, or where Chinese consumers won't purchase much more than they already are.

  • The administration concedes that this deal is just a first step, and says future negotiations will be needed. Maybe those will go somewhere, but maybe they won't.

  • It is not clear if the deal will require Congressional approval. If it does, that's obviously another sizable ball of wax.

In short, Trump appears to be on the verge of a major success. However, you know what they say about counting your chickens before your eggs are hatched.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has an interesting piece about what's going on with the farm economy. On one hand, in 2019, that sector had its most profitable year in half a decade. On the other hand, that was mostly due to federal subsidies. Further, the vast majority of the subsidies (and thus the profits) were enjoyed by the top 10% wealthiest farms. In that way, the subsidies are like the Trump tax cut. In any event, the not-so-rich farms are still feeling the pinch very badly, as profit margins fall (or disappear entirely), debts rise, and bankruptcies become more common.

Will the new China trade deal, if it is consummated, help these folks? Maybe, but maybe not. Even if the deal brings new prosperity, it tends to take a while for that to trickle down, while debt has a way of lingering for a very long time. And if 2020 is another rough year, will that affect a sizable number of votes from those who own, work on, or otherwise depend on smaller farms? Very possibly; this is going to be one of the more important things to watch over the course of the next 10 months. (Z)

Trump-Critical Pieces by Christians Are Piling Up

The anti-Trump editorial in Christianity Today got a lot of attention, including from the President. Since then, the magazine has apparently inspired a number of others to follow suit.

To start, the folks at the Christian Post did not much care for what their colleagues at Christianity Today had to say, and decided to run a pro-Trump editorial. That did not sit well with Christian Post political editor Napp Nazworth, so he quit and wrote a scathing op-ed for the anti-Trump conservative site The Bulwark. His piece includes a list of statements like "It doesn't matter how many pastors support, or don't support, him," "It doesn't matter if the Democrats were biased against him," and "It doesn't matter how many times Democrats have wanted to impeach him," and then gets right to the heart of the issue: "I'm not saying those questions are unimportant. Many are. But on the issue of whether Trump should be removed from office, there is only one question that matters: Is he guilty of what the articles of impeachment charge?"

Nazworth isn't the only one, either. Although the Christian Post's editorial policy is pro-Trump, they did print an op-ed entitled "Convict Trump: The Constitution is more important than abortion." Paul Miller writes:

Christians should advocate for President Donald J. Trump's conviction and removal from office by the Senate. While Trump has an excellent record of appointing conservative judges and advancing a prolife agenda, his criminal conduct endangers the Constitution. The Constitution is more important than the prolife cause because without the Constitution, prolife advocacy would be meaningless.

He also observes that, "Trump's defenders claim that the other side has never been fair and cannot be trusted no matter what. That might be correct—but the other side's duplicity doesn't justify Trump's criminality."

And then there is this piece from The Christian Century, which isn't evangelical, but does have a wide readership among Protestants of all stripes. Urging the U.S. Senate to convict the President, they editorialize that "Trump's behavior is unacceptable not by an ideological standard but by a constitutional one. An unaccountable president is a threat to democracy and the rule of law. Stopping such a threat is worth losing your job, even if you're a senator."

In the end, the dilemma faced by Christians, particularly evangelicals, is clear. On one hand, many of them love Trump's judicial picks, and his policies regarding Israel. Some of them, whether they would admit it publicly or not, also approve of his Islamophobia and/or his casual racism, as well as his self-declared war against political correctness. On the other hand, he's clearly not a Christian and he does lots of not-very-Christian things. Evangelicals might be able to turn the other cheek, as it were, but it's hard to overlook such behavior over and over and over for years on end. Further, as Miller points out, destroying the Constitution in order to achieve evangelical goals could be a case of winning the battle but losing the war. Similarly, younger evangelicals are deserting in droves, either to more liberal Christian denominations, or to no religion at all. That's another version of winning the battle and losing the war.

Will any of this affect this year's election? There's every chance it will. Trump took about 85% of the evangelical vote in 2016; there's really nowhere to go but down. And it's important that the authors of these editorials have a lot of credibility; not only are they Christians and/or evangelicals themselves, but nearly all of them make a point of criticizing the Democrats as well. If the President loses just one evangelical in 10 from his 2016 performance, that's a big problem for him. On top of that, he took about 65% of the non-evangelical Christian vote in 2016. If some of those folks are inspired to have second thoughts due to Christianity Today, et al., that's also a problem. As with the farmers (see above), this will be an important story this year. (Z)

An Under-the-radar Sort of Gerrymander

As we know, 2020 is both an election year and a census year, which means the folks on the ballot in November will (in most states) be drawing the next decade's legislative and congressional maps. Hansi Lo Wang, writing for NPR, draws attention to a particular kind of gerrymander that is unusually sleazy, and that most folks probably haven't noticed. You might call it the "prison gerrymander."

The basic idea is pretty simple. Prisons have large concentrations of people who count for census purposes, but who cannot vote. So, you draw a district that has a prison in it, as well as the homes of a few hundred (or a few thousand) non-prisoners, and all of a sudden the voting power of those non-prisoners is magnified. Since prisons tend to be in rural areas, this almost always works to the benefit of the GOP. Meanwhile, the folks who are effectively voting on behalf of the prisoners generally care little about the issues the prisoners face, either while incarcerated, or once they are released.

This is uncomfortably close to the situation under the three-fifths compromise of the Constitution, which effectively appropriated the franchise of people of color for the benefit of white conservatives. Needless to say, the three-fifths compromise is one of the darkest parts of U.S. history, so it follows that any circumstance that parallels the compromise is probably pretty odious. There is an obvious fix here, namely counting prisoners as residents of their last non-prison address rather than residents of their prison. You surely don't need us to tell you which political party favors this change and which one opposes it. (Z)

Beginning-of-the-Year Democratic Polling

With the calendar turning over to 2020, and the caucuses and primaries just around the corner, it's a good time to take a look at the state of the Democratic field, as the polls have it. Morning Consult, The Economist/YouGov, CNN, Emerson, The Hill/HarrisX, and NBC News/The Wall Street Journal have all released polls in the last two weeks; here's everyone to get above 1% in any of the six:

Candidate MC EYG CNN Em. HHX NBC Average
Joe Biden 32% 29% 26% 32% 29% 28% 29.3%
Bernie Sanders 21% 19% 20% 25% 13% 21% 19.8%
Elizabeth Warren 14% 18% 16% 12% 13% 18% 15.2%
Pete Buttigieg 8% 8% 8% 8% 5% 9% 7.7%
Michael Bloomberg 6% 3% 5% 3% 5% 4% 4.3%
Andrew Yang 4% 3% 3% 6% 3% 3% 3.7%
Amy Klobuchar 3% 4% 3% 2% 3% 5% 3.3%
Cory Booker 3% 2% 3% 2% 2% 2% 2.3%
Tulsi Gabbard 1% 3% 1% 4% 1% 2% 2.0%
Tom Steyer 3% 2% 1% 2% 3% 1% 2.0%
Julián Castro 1% 1% 2% 0% 4% 1% 1.5%
John Delaney 1% 0% 1% 1% 2% 0% 0.8%

The race is currently Joe Biden's to lose; and there's a very clear-cut 1-2-3-4 with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) having put his heart attack in the rearview mirror and reemerged as the progressive favorite, followed by progressive #2 Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and then Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend). Michael Bloomberg has purchased himself the slimmest of chances at a bargain price tag of only $50 million; everyone else is waiting for either a miracle or for their money to run out. (Z)

Beginning-of-the-Year Democratic Power Rankings

In the last few cycles, quite a few outlets have adopted a concept that comes from the world of sports, and have produced weekly (or monthly) "power rankings" of presidential candidates. This way of looking at the Democratic race is, of course, slightly different from just examining polls, as it incorporates some amount of "gut feel." In the last week or so, Rolling Stone, CNN, Business Insider, The Washington Post, and The Hill, have all updated their rankings. The following table shows how each has it, along with the political futures betting site PredictIt:

1 Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Biden
2 Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders Elizabeth Warren Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders
3 Elizabeth Warren Pete Buttigieg Bernie Sanders Elizabeth Warren Elizabeth Warren Elizabeth Warren
4 Pete Buttigieg Elizabeth Warren Amy Klobuchar Pete Buttigieg Pete Buttigieg Pete Buttigieg
5 Andrew Yang Amy Klobuchar Andrew Yang Amy Klobuchar Amy Klobuchar Michael Bloomberg
6 Amy Klobuchar Michael Bloomberg Pete Buttigieg Andrew Yang Michael Bloomberg Andrew Yang
7 Cory Booker Andrew Yang Michael Bloomberg Michael Bloomberg Andrew Yang Amy Klobuchar
8 Michael Bloomberg Cory Booker Tom Steyer Cory Booker Cory Booker Hillary Clinton
9 Tulsi Gabbard Tom Steyer Cory Booker - Tulsi Gabbard -
10 Tom Steyer Julián Castro Julián Castro - Tom Steyer -

One wonders exactly what kind of holiday brownies they were consuming at Business Insider. In any event, as with the polls, Joe Biden remains the consensus frontrunner, while Bernie Sanders is the leading progressive. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg are also among the frontrunners, and then after them it's a question of exactly how large a miracle is needed.

As a bonus, the Post also ranked the top 15 VP candidates. Here's their list, along with how PredictIt has it:

Rank WP PI
1 Kamala Harris Kamala Harris
2 Stacey Abrams Stacey Abrams
3 Julián Castro Elizabeth Warren
4 Cory Booker Amy Klobuchar
5 Pete Buttigieg Pete Buttigieg
6 Amy Klobuchar Cory Booker
7 Deval Patrick Tulsi Gabbard
8 Elizabeth Warren Julián Castro
9 Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
10 Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) Beto O'Rourke
11 Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) Joe Biden
12 Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) -
13 Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-RI) -
14 AG Josh Shapiro (D-PA) -
15 Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) -

Some of these are pretty wacky; Raimondo is the least popular governor in America, for example, while Coons would be a really poor match for the frontrunner Biden given that they are both from the same state. There's also no way the Democrats put a Senate seat at risk by tapping Sherrod Brown. In any case, VP rankings are only for discussion/amusement purposes. Given that we don't even know who the the nominee is, and that there are literally hundreds of viable VP candidates, nobody has more than a 5% chance at the #2 slot right now. (Z)

Q4 Fundraising Numbers Are Trickling In

The fourth quarter of 2019 ended when the year did. Normally, quarterly fundraising reports are due by the middle of the next month, but because the campaigns also have to file year-end reports, the Q4 deadline is January 31.

That said, the campaigns know (at least generally) how much they took in over the last three months. And there is some PR value in announcing a big take. So, the announcements have already begun. Bernie Sanders collected $34.5 million, Pete Buttigieg brought in $24.7 million, while Andrew Yang expects to collect a little north of $12.5 million.

Here are the quarterly results for the still-active campaigns:

Candidate Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q4 vs. Q3
Bernie Sanders $20.7M $25.7M $28.0M $34.5M +23.2%
Pete Buttigieg $7.4M $24.9M $19.2M $24.7M +28.6%
Andrew Yang $1.8M $2.8M $9.9M $12.5M +26.2%
Michael Bennet - $3.5M $2.1M - -
Joe Biden - $22.0M $15.7M - -
Michael Bloomberg - - - - -
Cory Booker $7.9M $4.5M $6.0M - -
Julián Castro $1.1M $2.8M $3.5M - -
John Delaney $12.1M $8.0M $0.9M - -
Tulsi Gabbard $4.5M $1.6M $3.0M - -
Amy Klobuchar $8.8M $3.9M $4.8M - -
Tom Steyer - - $49.6M - -
Donald Trump $30.3M $26.5M $41.0M - -
Elizabeth Warren $16.5M $19.2M $24.7M - -

Obviously, Sanders, Buttigieg and Yang are doing pretty well, though it's hard to say too much more until we see the other candidates' takes. The departure of several candidates from the race and the fact that the primaries are drawing close can generally be expected to benefit those folks who remain in the race. But we need more context to judge exactly how strong these multimillion dollar, 25% or so increase from Q3 hauls really are. We will continue to update this table as candidates lay their cards on the table. (Z)

Elections to Watch in 2020

Lots of folks around the world will be headed to the polls this year. That includes Americans, who—as you might have heard—will be voting for president. Besides the race for the White House, here are some of the other interesting U.S. elections this year:

  • AL, AZ, CO, ME, and NC U.S. Senate seats: These five seats, one of them currently held by a Democrat (AL) and four held by Republicans, will determine control of the next Senate, and whether or not Mitch McConnell (R-KY) keeps his Majority Leader's gavel. Barring a surprise elsewhere (like a GOP loss in Texas or a Democratic loss in Michigan), the Democrats need to win four of five and the White House, or else they need a clean sweep. In the latter scenario, Donald Trump has survived impeachment and has been reelected, is feeling invulnerable, and is looking at a Congress where both houses are controlled by the Democrats. It's a scary thought to ponder.

  • CA-25, MD-07, NY-27, WI-07: All of these will have special elections in the next few months, occasioned by the resignation or death of the incumbent. CA-50 will presumably join the list, but Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) has not formally resigned yet, despite having pleaded guilty to a felony and having been stripped of his voting privileges in Congress.

  • UT-04, MN-07, OK-05, SC-01, GA-06, TX-07, VA-07, NY-22, NM-02, TX-32, IL-14: These districts are all R+5 or redder, and are all held by Democrats. If the blue team can keep most or all of these, then it portends a long period of Democratic control of the House.

  • NY-24: John Katko is the only House Republican to represent a Democratic district; NY-24 is D+3. Can he hold on?

  • IA-04: Is this the year that Congress' resident white supremacist, Steve King (R), reaches the end of the line?

  • TX-23: This is the only district bordering Mexico that is held by a Republican, and that Republican (Will Hurd) is retiring.

  • Texas Suburban Districts: One of these days, Texas is likely to turn purple. If 2020 is the year that begins in earnest, it will require Texas suburbanites to do what the folks in Orange County, CA did in 2018, and flip to blue. TX-10, TX-21, TX-22, TX-24, and TX-31 are among the districts the Democrats hope to steal away from the Republicans.

  • Montana Governor: Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) is term-limited, and folks are lining up on both sides of the aisle to replace him. This is one of only two gubernatorial races with legitimate drama this year; if a Republican wins the GOP will have a trifecta in Montana. This will allow them to gerrymander the congressional districts to their hearts' content. Unfortunately, Montana has only one member of Congress, who represents the entire state. However, as a consolation prize, the legislature can lock in their own seats until 2030.

  • North Carolina Governor: This is the other gubernatorial race with drama; Gov. Roy Cooper (D) rode a backlash against the state's repressive "bathroom bill" into office, and now he will benefit from incumbency, North Carolina's leftward drift, and solid approval ratings (48% approve, 30% disapprove). If he loses, it's possible that North Carolina ends up as a Republican trifecta. However, the fight over the state's gerrymandered maps could also swing things in the other direction, and produce a Democratic trifecta if Cooper wins.

  • Minnesota Legislature: The Democratic-Farmer-Laborer Party needs to flip just two seats in the state senate to have a trifecta heading into redistricting season.

  • Pennsylvania Legislature: The Democrats need 3-4 seats in the state senate and 8-9 in the state house to secure a trifecta. Given that Donald Trump is pretty unpopular in the keystone state (52% disapprove, 45% approve), it could happen.

Meanwhile, here are some interesting things to watch internationally:

  • Jan. 11; Taiwan: President Tsai Ing-wen and the national legislature are both up. The Chinese are trying to interfere with the election, in particular to get Tsai booted out of office. Could very well be a trial run for mucking around in the U.S. elections.

  • March 2; Israel: The Israelis will try for the third time in a year to elect a government. This could be the end for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though he has more lives than a cat, so maybe not. On Monday, he officially asked the Knesset for immunity from prosecution, a move that is expected to hurt the PM and his party at the polls.

  • Feb. 21; Iran: The Iranians will choose a new legislature; the current battle there is between reformers and conservatives. The Parliament doesn't hold all that much power in Iran (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calls the shots), but the elections will nonetheless give some indication as to where the Iran-U.S. relationship is headed in the next year or two.

  • Apr. 15; South Korea: The Koreans will be choosing a new legislature; politics there are almost as messy right now as in the United States. The result could give some insight into how voters are feeling about the North Korea situation, and the alliance with the U.S.

  • May; Poland: Andrzej Duda, one of the European leaders who is most friendly with Donald Trump, is up for reelection, and is likely to win.

  • June; U.N. Security Council: It's likely that Canada will be elected to a two-year term on the Council, and it's possible Mexico could be, too. If so, that would certainly create an interesting dynamic for the U.S.

Not too many countries vote as late in the year as the U.S. does, so the eyes of the world will definitely be on America in early November. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan01 Do as I Say, Not as I Do
Jan01 Collins "Open to Witnesses" in Impeachment Trial
Jan01 Lewandowski Is Out
Jan01 Trump 2019 in Review, Part I: The Worst Weeks
Jan01 Trump 2019 in Review, Part II: The Lows
Jan01 Trump 2019 in Review, Part III: The Highs
Jan01 Back to the Future, Part II: 2020 Predictions
Dec31 Shadowy Diplomacy
Dec31 Two Judges, Two Punts
Dec31 U.S. Army Bans Use of TikTok by Soldiers
Dec31 Biden Says He'd Consider a Republican Running Mate
Dec31 Sanders' Doctors Give Him a Clean Bill of Health
Dec31 Black Voters Energized Heading into 2020
Dec31 Back to the Future, Part I: 2019 Predictions
Dec30 Trump Starts to Assemble His Defense Team
Dec30 Biden Waffles on Subpoena
Dec30 Who's Ahead in Iowa?
Dec30 The Gender Gap in 2020 Could Be Unprecedented
Dec30 Bloomberg Hires 200 Staffers in March and April Primary States
Dec30 Florida is Too Important to Ignore
Dec30 Cybersecurity Threats Loom in 2020
Dec30 James Lankford Doesn't See Trump as a Role Model
Dec29 Sunday Mailbag
Dec28 Saturday Q&A
Dec27 North Korean "Christmas Gift" Is Belated
Dec27 Trump-only Ballot Triggers Lawsuit in Minnesota
Dec27 Democrats Getting Ready to Run on Healthcare
Dec27 What Does a Promising Presidential Résumé Look Like?, Part I
Dec27 The Not-so-Young and Restless
Dec27 Who Are the Snowflakes, Again?
Dec27 Netanyahu Will Keep on Keepin' On
Dec26 House Is Open to More Articles of Impeachment
Dec26 DNC Tightens the Screws Again
Dec26 Billionaires Have Spent $200 Million on the Primaries So Far
Dec26 Murkowski Is "Disturbed" by McConnell's View of the Impeachment Trial
Dec26 It's Christian against Christian
Dec26 Trump Now Wants to Rip American Families Apart
Dec26 McConnell Lards on the Pork
Dec26 Liz Cheney Still Undecided on Senate Run
Dec25 "Christmas Gift" from North Korea Arrives Today
Dec25 Trott Says Trump "Unfit for Office"
Dec25 The Paradox of Choice
Dec25 "Tío Bernie" Leads Among Latino Voters
Dec25 Is Amy Klobuchar Surging?
Dec25 Christmas in Washington
Dec25 I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part IX
Dec24 Who Would Jesus Vote For?