How Biden Stopped His Iowa Tailspin
Trump Dropped Hints to Mar-a-Lago Guests
How Trump Decided to Kill an Iranian General
Trump Rallies Evangelicals
White House Withholds 20 Emails on Ukraine Aid
Lack of Polls Makes It Hard to Qualify for Next Debate
• Evidence Against Trump Continues to Mount
• More Q4 Fundraising Numbers Are In
• Bloomberg Makes His Strategy Official
• Castro Gives Up
• Williamson Campaign Enters Its Death Throes
• Why Do Young Voters Hate Pete Buttigieg?
• Unions Are Cool on Sanders This Time
• Five Fights to Expect in Congress
• Over 200 Members of Congress Ask Supreme Court to Revisit Roe v. Wade
The relationship between the United States and Iran has not exactly gone swimmingly in the last week or so. There was a rocket attack by the Iran-aligned Kata'ib Hezbollah militia that killed an American contractor and injured several others. The U.S. responded with airstrikes, and the Iranians returned serve with an attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Late Thursday, the Trump administration upped the ante even further, with the President ordering a surgical strike at Baghdad International Airport that killed, among others, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani (who planned the attack on the U.S. embassy, and is commander of the Quds Force, which conducts special operations for the Iranian government) and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (commander of Kata'ib Hezbollah).
In the end, this day (and this week) were almost inevitable. There is nobody who believes that the nuclear deal that the Obama administration negotiated with Iran was perfect. However, politics is the art of the possible, and the agreement was just about the best option available within the realm of the possible. Right-wingers in both the United States and Iran hated it and, as they say, the sign of a good treaty is that neither side is entirely happy. When Trump withdrew from the pact, which is properly known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, he was unable to articulate, in any way, what his vision for a "better" deal was (any more than he could articulate his plan to replace Obamacare or his plan to defeat ISIS). Since this administration has no apparent reservoir of diplomatic talent superior to that of the Obama administration, it was clear that the end of the nuclear deal was the end of diplomacy with Iran, at least as long as Trump is in office.
In the absence of diplomacy, the alternative is the use of force. Since withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, the President has spent his days surrounded by Iran hawks, including now-departed NSA John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (not to mention Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu). The simmering tensions between the United States and Iran nearly led to an outbreak of hostilities in June and July; the only thing that stopped it then was Trump's reluctance to pull the trigger. Whatever the reason for that reluctance was, it's now vanished, and the Rubicon has been crossed. The President of the United States has, in effect, had two prominent Iranian military commanders assassinated.
There is a strong argument to be made that Trump's actions this week, up to and including Thursday's strike, were justified and entirely proportional. However, even if that is so, we never should have gotten to this point in the first place. The fact that we are here is 100% the President's responsibility. Further, it's very hard to see how this does not get much worse. Iran is going to retaliate; that is for certain. Iran has an honor-shame culture, and backing down would essentially be unthinkable. There's also the religious element, of course, as many Iranians view U.S. aggression as an attack upon Islam. And Soleimani—in particular—was a national hero, something along the lines of Colin Powell. He's already being lauded as a martyr, and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has promised "severe revenge" and warned that "harsh retaliation is waiting."
Once Iran does respond, what does Trump do then? He's pretty much backed himself into a cycle of escalation. It does not help that the events of the last year have strengthened right-wing, militaristic elements in Iran, most obviously the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. It also does not help that the government of Iraq is teetering right now, and could collapse, creating a power vacuum in the region. Perhaps most grim of all is that, if and when Team Trump decides that maybe diplomacy isn't so bad after all, the Iranians are not likely to be willing to deal with him. For obvious reasons, they don't trust the United States' word anymore. They certainly don't trust Trump.
The President has had pretty good luck in foreign affairs, as there have been no truly serious problems on that front during his first three years in office. That would be good news for any president, but especially for Trump, since no president in at least a century has been less equipped than he to deal with a foreign affairs disaster. Now it looks like his luck has run out, and he's en route to his first full-blown crisis. We will see what happens, but this could be a game-changer when it comes to both the Middle East and to the 2020 election.
Readers of a certain age may remember what happened in Iran on Nov. 4, 1979. A group of Iranian students took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage, in what later was called the Iran hostage crisis. They were held for 444 days, despite President Jimmy Carter trying to use diplomacy to get them released. Then he tried military force and that didn't work either. Many observers blame his failure to get the hostages released, either by diplomacy or by force, for his defeat in 1980. If something like that happens again, we will discover whether Trump fares better than Carter, especially if the Iranians are smart enough to separate any hostages taken and hold them in far-flung locations, so no one military raid can free them all. (Z)
Just Security is a nonpartisan think tank based at NYU that focuses on...you guessed it, national security. They filed a FOIA request to look at a bunch of unredacted Ukraineyola Scandal-related e-mails from the Pentagon, and it was granted, with some messages released on Dec. 12 and others on Dec. 20. What Just Security found, upon reading the messages, isn't going to be helpful for Donald Trump.
You can read the linked report for all the gory details, but the upshot is that virtually the entire administration, and everyone at the Pentagon, opposed the freezing of funds to Ukraine. First, because they felt it was detrimental to U.S. national interests, as that money was needed for Ukraine to push back against Russian aggression. Second, because they feared the hold was illegal; a violation of the Impoundment Control Act. The drama lingered over several months this summer, and any time anyone pushed back against the freeze, they were advised that it came from the President himself, and that he was not interested in their opinions. Under these circumstances, it's not surprising that the whistleblower went to the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, as there was effectively no other option available. Expressing concern to superiors wouldn't have mattered because they were already in agreement.
When the impeachment trial finally begins, presumably sometime this month, it's likely that the Democrats have a few aces up their sleeves, and this could be one of them. We shall see how the general public reacts to any new revelations, since that will dictate how many GOP senators (if any) defect. In any case, the e-mails strengthen even further the case that Donald Trump abused his power. Meanwhile, the fact that they were buried, and then redacted, before finally seeing the light of day strengthens even further the case that Trump obstructed Congress. At this point, he would surely be convicted in any court in the land. He's very lucky that the Senate isn't a court. (Z)
Impeachment may be the best thing that ever happened to Donald Trump. His campaign just announced a total of $46 million raised in Q4 of 2019. This was his best quarterly haul ever. On the day the House voted to impeach him, he raised $3 million. Trump now has $103 million in the bank.
In 2011, as he was running for reelection, Barack Obama raised $42 million in Q4, just slightly less than Trump did in a comparable period. So while $46 million is huge, it is not completely out of the ordinary for an incumbent president running for reelection. It is also notable that Trump's take was up less, as a percentage, than most of his Democratic rivals. His campaign has been running its money-making operation at full bore all year long; it may be the case that he's approaching the upper limit for how much he can take in each quarter.
Joe Biden had a good fourth quarter as well, pulling in $22.7 million. While it is only half of what Donald Trump raised, it is Biden's best quarter so far. Biden's campaign manager attributed the fundraising to Trump's failed attempt to extort the president of Ukraine into investigating the Biden family. Of course, in reality, Team Biden has no idea why people are opening their wallets.
Andrew Yang also had his best quarter ever, and raised $16.5 million in Q4. That's considerably higher than the $12.5 million he originally projected. Although it is good for Yang, it is bad for the Democrats. They need to winnow the field, and when candidates have enough money to continue campaigning, that is what they do. Candidates drop out only when the money faucet runs dry, and Yang's is still flowing. Yang continues to poll in the mid single digits. That is going to translate into zero delegates in Iowa, on account of the 15% rule. That he has some tens of thousands of people willing to send him money doesn't change that.
One person who did not have their best quarter was Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), whose total of $3.4 million not only trails her rivals (at least, the ones who have announced so far), it also trails her Q1 take of $4.5 million. Still, she's got a lean and mean campaign and, like Yang, she'll be able to keep going for a while if she wants to, even if no more debate invitations are forthcoming.
Here is an updated table with all of the known Q4 figures included:
|Candidate||Q1||Q2||Q3||Q4||Q4 vs. Q3|
We actually know most of the important stuff already. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-MA) take will be of interest, especially since it is expected to lag her Q3 total. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (DFL-MN) total will be of interest, as well, as we see if she really has any "momentum." Beyond that, it's going to be candidates whose total will make clear that the end is near (Bennet, Booker, Delaney, etc.), or candidates whose totals are not instructive because they just wrote a fat check to themselves (Bloomberg, Steyer).
There was a period of time when the Democratic pooh-bahs were nervous about their fundraising prospects heading into 2020, but that time has passed. As you can see, if you add up the figures above, the Democratic candidates' hauls this quarter add up to nearly $102 million. Warren and Klobuchar will add another $25 million to that, give or take, which means that despite having the bully pulpit and an operation that literally sends out 2-3 "give us cash to own the libs" e-mails every day, the Trump campaign was tripled up by his Democratic opponents. There is no way that all of those Democratic donors will gravitate to the eventual nominee, but there is also no way that only 33% of them will gravitate to the eventual nominee, either. Meanwhile, the combined DNC plus Democratic candidate take in 2019 was over $450 million; the combined RNC plus Trump take was just a shade over $400 million. This could be due to greater Democratic enthusiasm, or due to the fact that they have much better grassroots fundraising thanks to the machine that is ActBlue.
It's possible that the RNC/Trump combo will surge in 2020, and maybe even pull ahead of the DNC/Democratic nominee combo. Whatever happens, though, it is clear that the Democrats will not lag miles behind, which is why the pooh-bahs are consuming fewer Rolaids these days. (V & Z)
The filing deadline to be on the presidential primary ballot in New Hampshire was Nov. 15, and Michael Bloomberg missed it. The deadline in South Carolina was Dec. 4, and he missed that, too. The deadline for Nevada was Jan. 1, and Bloomberg just skipped that one, as well. Since there is no deadline for Iowa, that means that Bloomberg is as all-in as he can get on his alleged strategy of skipping the early states and betting it all on Super Tuesday.
Why do we describe this as an "alleged" strategy? Well, to start, Bloomberg is smart. He surely knows that nobody has made the "skip the early states" strategy work in nearly a century. Further, there is much speculation that winning the presidency isn't really Bloomberg's game, derailing Donald Trump is. As a "candidate," it is much easier for his team to collect data, and he also gets preferred advertising rates (usually 25% of the cost paid by PACs and non-candidates). His candidacy also affords cover for the order he gave to Bloomberg News not to dig up dirt on any of the Democratic candidates.
There's no way to be certain, at the moment, if this slightly conspiratorial way of looking at things is correct, but it does seem to line up with the facts better than "Bloomberg thinks he's got a real chance to win this thing." It will be interesting to see if he remains a "candidate" once delegates begin to be awarded, and it becomes clear he can't win. (Z)
That's Julián, not Fidel (he died in 2016) or Raúl (he retired in 2018). His campaign was like that of Kamala Harris: "It's time for someone from my gender/ethnic group to be president, and I humbly offer myself to the country." As it turns out, that's not enough. The candidate has to be something special, as Barack Obama was (and John Kennedy, the first and only Catholic president was) and as Castro and Harris were definitely not.
Somewhat presumptuously, Castro's parting words were: "I have determined that this simply isn't our time." If he meant "our" in the sense of the royal "we," that is, it wasn't his time, OK. However, if he meant that the country won't accept a Latino as president, that's quite an assertion. That the country didn't prefer him to a large field of much better qualified candidates doesn't mean that a different Latino wouldn't have done better. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) may yet have his day. Or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Or Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV). Or Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM). Or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (as soon as she is old enough). Castro's only endorsements were from his brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), and first-term Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX).
Sometimes lightning strikes, but usually only when the candidate is special. Pete Buttigieg is doing well not because he is gay, but because he is an exceptionally good campaigner who just happens to be gay. Bernie Sanders is doing well not because the country desperately wants a Jewish president, but because Sanders has a message that resonates with millions of Democrats and he is exceedingly good at presenting it. Sometimes Democratic politicians think that identity politics is the whole shebang, but the voters usually don't agree. As evidence, neither Harris nor Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) ever polled above 5% in South Carolina, a state where 60% of the Democrats are black. The bottom line here is that the candidate matters. Demographic appeal doesn't actually work so well when the candidate isn't all that strong.
Oh, wait. Sometimes identity politics does work. Donald Trump campaigned and has governed based on a philosophy of white nationalism. That is the glue that holds his base together. Immigration, the Muslim ban, "there are good people on both sides" are all parts of the picture. It's a barely disguised pitch: "If you are white, vote for me to stop the brown masses invading our country." So it appears that identity politics works with (some) white voters, but nonwhite voters prefer to support the best candidate, regardless of ethnicity. (V)
Fundraising deadlines have a way of winnowing down the field of candidates, since they make it impossible for a fading candidate to keep their lack of support under wraps. Julián Castro has already fallen victim to the Q4 deadline (see above), and it wouldn't be too surprising if it claims Cory Booker, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), and/or John Delaney by the time the month is out.
Another victim, it would appear, is Marianne Williamson. We don't regard her as a serious candidate anymore, which is why she doesn't appear in the fundraising table above. Truth be told, we're not sure that she ever intended to be a serious candidate; she's very good at PR, and this presidential campaign undoubtedly sold a lot of books and online courses and memberships to her website. In any event, though, her candidacy—serious or not—is nearing its end, as she has just laid off all of her campaign staff (a group that once numbered 45 people). Perhaps she will officially announce this week that the end has come; if she doesn't, it's only because she wants a few more months of being introduced as "presidential candidate Marianne Williamson" at speaking engagements. (Z)
One might think that younger voters would be flocking to Pete Buttigieg (37) and older voters would be wildly enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders (77). And, one would be wrong. Younger voters love Sanders and can't stand Buttigieg (see above about identity politics). The kids have loved Sanders from 2016 onward, so that's not much of a surprise, but what is the deal with Buttigieg? Politico has taken a long look at why Buttigieg is so unpopular with younger voters in a piece headlined: "Why Pete Buttigieg Enrages the Young Left." The first sentence ends with: "the youngest and most activated voters in his party all seem to—how to put this delicately—hate his guts." A writer in Out magazine put it this way: "If he had balls, he would run as the Republican he is against Trump in the primary."
Buttigieg's views are clearly more liberal than those of Sens. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) and Michael Bennet (D-CO). Among other things, he wants to raise the minimum wage to $15/hr, create a public health care option, pack the Supreme Court, and abolish the Electoral College. So why does a recent Siena College Poll put him a distant third behind Sanders and Elizabeth Warren among 18–29 year olds?
Many young activists see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as their model of what a young Democratic politician should be, and Buttigieg is no AOC. He is a proud veteran, an outspoken Christian, a former McKinsey consultant, and is more like a young Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) than he is like Ocasio-Cortez.
Given his background of a Harvard education and being elected mayor of a small town in Indiana, it really isn't that surprising that he is no revolutionary. In a way, he fits the model of young Democrats better than some young people would like. The youngest Democrat in the House is Ocasio-Cortez, who is a Democratic Socialist. But look at the next 10 youngest House Democrats. They include venture capitalist Josh Harder, veteran Max Rose, and Conor Lamb, a moderate who won an upset victory deep in Trump country. Many of the 40 new Democratic arrivals after the 2018 elections are also quite moderate.
Put in other terms, many young progressives had expected the first under-40 Democrat to wage a serious fight for the Democratic nomination to be a strong progressive, and Buttigieg is not, so they are deeply frustrated with him. But he is who he is, and he also understands that while AOC can win in a landslide in a young, largely nonwhite district (NY-14), his profile is a better fit for most of the country than hers. (V)
Labor unions were big supporters of Bernie Sanders in 2016. In 2020, not so much. Sanders has been trying to get support from New Hampshire Electrical workers and the SEA-SEIU, but they have been staying on the sidelines so far. He offered the members a free steak dinner, but it didn't help.
The problem appears to be a split in the membership. Rich Gulla, president of SEA-SEIU, said: "I could talk to a dozen different members and get a dozen responses on who they like." The underlying problem is that in 2016, Sanders was the only progressive candidate. Now there is also Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). In addition, some members may hate Donald Trump so much that they will support any Democrat they think can beat him. Gulla said that due to this split, his union may not endorse any candidate before the primary. That is bad news for Sanders. (V)
As Congress reconvenes, it has a lot on its plate. Here are a few of the top items:
- Impeachment: The upcoming trial of Donald Trump is the biggie, of course. The starting
date is still uncertain, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) still hasn't chucked the Articles over the fence to the Senate
(though she is expected to do so soon, to allow a January trial). Once the trial starts, the Senate will meet 6 days a
week and all other Senate business will stop for the duration. No one is expecting a conviction, but if four Republican
senators break ranks with their colleagues and vote to subpoena John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, and others, there could be
- USMCA: The new trade deal (NAFTA v2.0) passed the House, but won't come up in the Senate
until after the impeachment trial. Since it can't be filibustered, it is virtually certain to pass. However, it may need
many Democratic votes to do so, because Republican senators are starting to discover that it basically gave the
Democrats and the unions a whole lot of what they wanted. Also, some of the GOP senators are unhappy that they were kept
out of the loop during the negotiation process.
- Surveillance Reform: The USA Freedom Act, which gives the government the freedom to snoop
on pretty much anyone, anywhere, any time, will expire in March. It doesn't formally repeal the Fourth Amendment, but
effectively overrides it. Some of the more controversial provisions may generate a fight in Congress. These include
those allowing the government to collect metadata (who called or texted whom) and place wiretaps. Also sure to generate
some sparks is the battle over the FISA Court, which can grant warrants to surveil Americans involved in foreign
activities. Like, say, Trump campaign advisor Carter Page.
- Drug Pricing: House Democrats want to lower the prices of prescription drugs and Senate
Republicans don't. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he won't even bring a House bill on drug
pricing up for a vote, for a very good reason. He wants to protect his members from taking a vote that would either be
wildly unpopular with the voters or wildly unpopular with Republican donors from the pharmaceutical industry. Quietly
killing the House bill seems like the safest route for him to take.
- Government Funding: The government is funded through Sept. 30, but work on the FY 2021 bills has to start soon, since no one wants the October surprise to be a government shutdown. Donald Trump wants money for a border wall, but Democrats will fiercely resist this. Funding the government implicitly defines the government's priorities like nothing else. As the late Nobel Memorial Prize winning economist Paul Samuelson would have put it, does the government want to buy more guns or more butter?
Given divided government, all of these are going to be tough slogs. (V)
Now that Republicans have a solid majority on the Supreme Court, they want some action from it. An amicus brief signed by 39 Republican senators and 168 Republican representatives (plus a couple of Democratic representatives) asked the High Court to reexamine Roe v. Wade, by which they mean reverse the 1973 decision that legalized abortion.
It is doubtful that the Court needs the advice of all these members of Congress. If it wants to reverse the decision, it is quite capable of doing that on its own. The consequence of it being reversed is that there will be no national policy on abortion. Every state will then be able to pass its own laws. The blue states will all pass laws making it legal when done by a qualified professional in a proper medical environment. The red states will either ban it or make it available only under very limited circumstances. These laws will reduce the number of abortions only among poor women who can't afford the bus fare to a nearby blue state where it is legal. The long-term result will be more unwanted poor and minority babies, probably not what many of the lawmakers had in mind.
Politically, it will be a different story, a case of "be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it." Once Roe has been reversed, it will cease to be a viable campaign issue for Republicans and will become a massive campaign issue for Democrats. It might even be the key to getting young voters to the polls, since abortion is more likely to matter personally to a 25-year-old woman than to a 65-year-old woman. It could also cement the Democrats' growing edge with suburban women. In any event, right now it is more of a campaign issue for the Republicans, who will now proudly announce that they signed the amicus brief.
For those who are wondering, the Supreme Court cannot issue advisory decisions, and is limited only to the cases on its docket. So, for example, Congressional Republicans cannot ask the Court to decide whether or not the Green New Deal is legal until such time that the Green New Deal is adopted and someone files a lawsuit against it. However, it is legal for the Court to revisit past decisions, and to issue something called a writ of coram nobis. This is a declaration that a fundamental error was made in the original hearing of a case, resulting in an improper decision. They are quite rare at the Supreme Court level; only one SCOTUS decision has been vacated in that manner (1944 Japanese internment case Korematsu v. United States). The odds are very high, then, that the current Court won't be revisiting and overturning Roe.
That said, the Court does have an indirect attack on Roe on its docket for this session, namely June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee, which centers on a Louisiana law that requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. So, the 200 letter-signers may get some of what they (claim they) want, even if Roe remains on the books. (V & Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan02 Trump-Critical Pieces by Christians Are Piling Up
Jan02 An Under-the-radar Sort of Gerrymander
Jan02 Beginning-of-the-Year Democratic Polling
Jan02 Beginning-of-the-Year Democratic Power Rankings
Jan02 Q4 Fundraising Numbers Are Trickling In
Jan02 Elections to Watch in 2020
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