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Political Wire logo Deciphering Trump’s Foreign Policy
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Iran Plots Its Revenge
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  War with Iran?
      •  Congress May Clash with Trump over War Powers
      •  Will the Iran Situation Help Buttigieg?
      •  Sanders Soars
      •  Appeals Court Hears Arguments in McGahn Case
      •  A Report from Trumpland
      •  Who's Ahead? 2024 Edition
      •  Another House Republican Retires

War with Iran?

After the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani last week, many media outlets are talking about military escalation leading to full-blown war. This has gotten young men so nervous that they went over to the Selective Service System's website in such large numbers that it crashed. The military draft was abolished in 1973 and it would require an act of Congress to reinstate it. That means that House Democrats would have to approve it, something that seems exceedingly unlikely. Nevertheless, under current law, all American men are required to register with the Selective Service System at 18 so the government can find them in the event the draft is reinstated.

A lot of this anxiety is overblown. To start with, now that women can perform just about every function in the military, including flying combat missions, as Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) has done, any attempt to revive the draft only for men will instantly generate a lawsuit claiming that the draft discriminates for/against women, depending on your point of view. Such a lawsuit could take years to resolve. If the new draft law includes both men and women, the Selective Service System will have the problem that while it has a database of men, it has no database of women. Finally, the draft is extremely unpopular and if there is one issue that might motivate young voters to show up at the polls in November to end the career of any member of Congress voting for it, it is this one.

Panic aside, it is very unlikely that there will be a full-scale war between Iran and the United States requiring millions of soldiers, because Iran doesn't want one. It knows that the U.S. could bomb it back to the stone age and the ayatollahs aren't stupid enough to give Donald Trump an excuse to try. Iran is likely to retaliate for the killing of Soleimani, but in a way that doesn't provoke a full-scale war. The only danger here is a gradual step-by-step escalation on both sides that leads to a war that no one wants. Retaliation is a certainty and Iran has already taken the first step. It has announced it has begun enriching uranium to the point it can be used in nuclear weapons. Now it is up to Trump to make the next move.

Tops among groups that absolutely do not want a full-blown war with Iran, including an invasion whose purpose is regime change, is the U.S. military. They know that while achieving air superiority would be easy and the U.S. could destroy military bases, airports, power stations, and oil fields without much difficulty, subduing Iran would require a ground invasion. They also know that Iran is a big country. It is three times the size of Iraq and bigger than France, Germany, and Spain combined. It also has a natural geography that makes it hard to invade. Here is a map of Iran and the surrounding area:

Map of Iran

Trying to land large numbers of Marines along Iran's southern border on the Gulf of Oman would make them sitting ducks, and would result in a tremendous number of casualties. Besides, there are mountains near the southern coast and the distance from the landing point to Tehran in the north could be 800 or 900 miles, depending on where the Marines land. And much of that is inhospitable territory.

A land invasion from Turkey would be the easiest, but when the U.S. asked Turkey for permission to invade Iraq in 2003, Turkey said "no" and would almost certainly say "no" again. An invasion from Afghanistan, where the U.S. already has troops, looks easy on the map, but not so easy on the ground. Much of the land of eastern Iran is the Dasht-e Kavir desert, which consists of a layer of salt covering thick mud. Tanks would sink in the quicksand-like material and not be able to move. It would be a nightmare. Iran's only vulnerability is in the southwest, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet to form the Shatt-al-Arab waterway. This is the route Saddam Hussein used in his invasion of Iran in Sept. 1980.

However, as Saddam discovered to his dismay, the area is swampy and pretty easy to defend. Iran knows this spot is its Achilles heel, and has built up huge defenses there. In addition, there are mountains between a potential landing point and Tehran, which is 600 miles away. Finally, getting thousands of Marines to the Shatt-al-Arab waterway would require them to pass through the narrow and very heavily defended Strait of Hormuz. That could be accomplished safely only after all of Iran's military in the area had been bombed into oblivion, which could result in U.S. aircraft being shot down.

In short, Iran's geography gives it significant natural defenses, such that a land invasion would result in thousands of U.S. casualties. This would hardly help Trump's reelection chances, if he were foolish enough to order a full-scale invasion. (V)

Congress May Clash with Trump over War Powers

The Constitution is somewhat ambiguous about which branch of the government gets to run foreign policy. Only Congress is granted the power to declare war or levy tariffs. Treaties with other nations must be ratified by the Senate. On the other hand, the president is the commander-in-chief. The dominant reading of the Constitution is that it is (only) Congress that can declare war, but once it has done so, the president is free to prosecute the war as he sees fit. The 1973 War Powers Act was passed to make this more explicit. It gives the president the power to deploy the U.S. armed forces without the consent of Congress, but requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of doing so. Furthermore, it forbids the armed forces from remaining deployed for more than 60 days without congressional approval. The purpose of the law was to check the president's power to act unilaterally.

That law may soon be tested, as Donald Trump doesn't like the idea of Congress telling him what he can and cannot do. Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that Senate Democrats are preparing a resolution asserting Congress' authority. Schumer further said: "We do not need this president either bumbling or impulsively getting us into a major war." Senate rules make it possible for Schumer to force a vote with a simple majority needed for passage. The resolution would also have to pass the House. However, Trump could veto it and it would require a 2/3 majority in each chamber to override the veto. Even if a veto can't be overridden, having Republican senators on record supporting Trump's actions could hurt the GOP if things go south and Americans are killed as a consequence of Trump's ordering the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. (V)

Will the Iran Situation Help Buttigieg?

The U.S. may or may not go to war with Iran, but the situation there could affect the Democratic primaries. The only veteran in the top tier of candidates is Pete Buttigieg. Furthermore, he served in the Middle East, specifically as a Navy intelligence officer in Afghanistan. He undoubtedly understands the area as well as any of the other candidates, and is the only one with substantial experience on the ground there. Consequently, he is now making his military experience and ability to be commander-in-chief on Day 1 a major part of his campaign, claiming that his work as an intelligence officer on the ground gives him insight none of the other candidates have. To the extent that Iran comes to dominate the news in the coming months, it will work in his favor (and also to some extent in the favor of Joe Biden, the only other candidate who can claim foreign affairs expertise).

On the other hand, if Iran dominates the headlines in January, voters in Iowa and elsewhere may decide that long experience with many facets of foreign policy is the key ingredient to being a succesful president. That view would certainly help Biden. On the other hand, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is emphasizing his vote against the Iraq War. His pitch is essentially that although Biden might be better at managing a war, with Sanders at the helm we could avoid unnecessary wars in the first place. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has little to gain from Iran being in the news since she is focused on domestic matters. (V)

Sanders Soars

New polls taken in Iowa and New Hampshire have good news for Bernie Sanders. According to a CBS/YouGov poll released yesterday, Sanders has moved into a three-way tie for first place in Iowa and into the lead in New Hampshire. Most of his gains come at the expense of fellow progressive Elizabeth Warren. Here are the numbers for the candidates polling above 3%:

Candidate Iowa New Hampshire
Bernie Sanders 23% 27%
Joe Biden 23% 25%
Pete Buttigieg 23% 13%
Elizabeth Warren 16% 18%
Amy Klobuchar 7% 7%

Sanders' support in New Hampshire is solid, with 65% of his backers calling themselves "enthusiastic" about their support for him. Iowa is a bit trickier due to the nature of a caucus. In New Hampshire, you come in, vote, and go home. There is no one who is likely to change your mind during the process. In Iowa, the caucusgoers spend hours discussing the candidates, typically in multiple rounds, and people often change their minds during the process.

However, one thing that might work against Sanders in the end is that only 20% of Iowa Democrats regard Sanders as a safe choice for the general election, while 53% described Joe Biden as safe. If the discussions during the caucuses turn to "who can beat Trump?" then Biden may pick up votes on caucus evening. Another point working for Biden in Iowa is that 38% of Iowa Democrats think he would probably beat Trump but only 29% think Sanders could unseat the president. (V)

Appeals Court Hears Arguments in McGahn Case

On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard oral arguments in the case of whether Donald Trump could kill a subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify before the House. Judge Thomas Griffith, a Republican appointee, asked tough questions of a government lawyer defending the administration's blanket prohibition of any current or former government employees from cooperating with the House. Judge Judith Rogers, a Democratic appointee, questioned the administration's position that the House lacked standing to enforce its own subpoena. The third judge, Republican appointee Karen Henderson, didn't ask much.

The appeal is a result of District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackon's ruling that McGahn must obey the subpoena. No matter how the appeals court rules, the case is almost certain to end up in the Supreme Court. (V)

A Report from Trumpland

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, some national news outlets set reporters off on safaris to hang out in diners in rural areas so they could find out how Donald Trump won. Having a coastal reporter spend 3 days interviewing locals suspicious of outsiders—especially reporters—probably isn't the way to do it. Three years later, The Bulwark has published a more detailed report from Trumpland by John Ziegler, a former right-wing talk radio host, who at the very least has a lot more credibility on the subject of Donald Trump than liberal reporters who parachuted in for a couple of days. Here is his report.

According to Ziegler, Trumpers come in four basic varieties:

  • Level 1: These are Republicans who don't like Trump at all, but who look at Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and think that the Democrats have lost their minds, so any Republican is better than the Democrats. If someone close to them is constantly feeding them the truth, it keeps them from going whole hog Trump. They might consider voting for Joe Biden. Ziegler notes that his wife is at level 1.

  • Level 2: Here we have avid Fox News watchers who think Trump is doing a fine job. After all, the economy is doing great and terrorists are being killed. They see his flaws, but think the media are exaggerating them. They will vote for him, no matter whom the Democrats nominate. Ziegler notes that his in-laws are at level 2.

  • Level 3: These people want broader sources of information than just Fox News, so they also watch the (much further right) One America News Network and also get news from various right-wing groups in Facebook. They know Trump is not perfect, but consider his imperfections a small price to pay for saving America from the socialists who are trying to destroy the country. Some of them think that Jesus may have played a role in getting Trump elected. Ziegler notes that some of his in-laws' friends are at level 3.

  • Level 4: Finally we come to the no-holds-barred "Cult 45" members. They reject the notion that Jesus may have helped put Trump in his position because they seriously consider the idea that Trump may be a god himself. Any criticism of him shows that the critic is a libtard or operative for the deep state. They go to his rallies and believe in conspiracy theories. Many of the people who listened to Ziegler's radio show before he stopped are at level 4.

During the holidays, Ziegler spent time with people at each level, but specifically wanted to relate his interactions with two people, who he calls Matt and Sue, and who are at level 3. Matt is highly educated, a teacher, and a strong Christian. When Ziegler pointed out that Trump wasn't so great because he didn't carry out his campaign promises (build a wall, drain the swap, lock Hillary up, reduce the deficit, release his taxes, etc.), Matt got quite agitated and blamed the Democrats. When Ziegler pointed out that for the first 2 years of his presidency, the Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House, so the Democrats had no power to block him, Matt got angry and left.

Sue is an older, wealthy, very Christian woman who used to be a big fan of Ziegler's radio show. She wanted to know how someone with such a proven track record as a conservative could question Trump at all. She seemed to sincerely not understand it. As an experiment, Ziegler asked her some questions:

  • Did she know that as a candidate, Trump was trying to build a massive tower in Moscow?
  • Did she know that his personal lawyer was in prison for lying about this to Congress?
  • Did she know that Trump's written answers to Robert Mueller were very likely perjurious?

Sue is an avid news watcher. She loves OANN, yet she knew nothing about any of these things and was genuinely surprised to hear about them. She lives in the proverbial bubble. By the end of the conversation, Ziegler was convinced that if she had watched CNN once in a while, she might not be a Trump supporter at all. In other words, he believes that as long as Trump's supporters get their news exclusively from Trump-supporting sources, they will remain loyal, but if a bit of truth ever gets to them, they could waver. (V)

Who's Ahead? 2024 Edition

For some people, all the talk about the 2020 presidential election is getting a bit boring. So let's look forward: Who's winning the 2024 race? Politico is on the ball with that and has picked the following folks as contenders. Needless to say, the mix changes depending on who is elected president in 2020. If it is Donald Trump, there will be no incumbent in 2024 and both parties will have wild free-for-all primaries. If a Democrat wins in 2020 and runs for reelection in 2024, only the Republicans will have a wild primary.

  • Mike Pence: Since 1960, every sitting or former elected veep who sought his party's presidential nomination got it, save two. In 1972, Hubert Humphrey failed to get the nomination a second time, after getting it in 1968 and losing the general election. In 2000, Dan "potatoe" Quayle dropped out almost immediately, largely because he was in way over his head. That said, Mike Pence is surely going to run in 2024. Nevertheless, he is no shoo-in. Unlike Dick Cheney, who de facto ran the country during George W. Bush's first term, Pence has no power and little public visibility. He is an evangelical, but that may not matter so much as many evangelicals have come to believe that a twice-divorced, pu**y-grabbing liar and bully is the kind of person Jesus loves. Pence may seem a bit low key after Trump. Still, while Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line, so Pence is probably the front runner at this moment.

  • Nikki Haley: Almost as good as being veep is being the subject of rumors that the president is planning to dump his current veep in favor of you—even if you are the source of the rumors. Haley was a governor and an ambassador to the United Nations, so she passes the commander-in-chief test. However, her strongest plus is also her strongest minus: She is a woman of color and daughter of immigrants. She might pull in general-election votes from women and minorities, but first she has to win a Republican primary and get the votes of white voters who might wonder if the former Nimrata Randhawa is a "real American," even though she was born in South Carolina. Before making it to the 2024 primary, however, she has to thread the needle with regard to keeping her distance from Donald Trump. If Trumpism goes down in flames, she will want to point out that she never really liked him, but if it lives on, she will want to show that she was on Team Trump. She's an astute politician, but she doesn't know how he is going to be regarded in 2024, so it is tricky balancing act for the time being.

  • Josh Hawley: Every morning 100 U.S. senators look in the bathroom mirror and see a future president. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) is the youngest of the bunch (40) and sees himself as the next Barack Obama or John Kennedy. With degrees from Stanford and Yale, he is trying to craft an intellectual framework that merges traditional Republican conservative views with Trump's crude populism. He recently flew to Hong Kong to side with the protesters and denounce the Chinese government, thus establishing some independence from Trump and some support of freedom. He is the darling of the D.C. conservative elites, but that may or may not play well in Peoria.

  • Ron DeSantis: Once upon a time, long long ago (2014), Republicans were proud of governors such as Chris Christie (NJ), John Kasich (OH), Bobby Jindal (LA), and Scott Walker (WI), who were seen as outside-the-beltway rising stars. Now the well has run dry, except for Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). He is Trumpish enough to satisfy many Trump supporters, while also pushing for more traditional Republican goals, including allowing teachers to be armed and providing state money to fund private schools. He also has a bit of an environmentalist streak—something politically useful in a state that might be substantially under water in 100 years. Or 10 years. He appointed a chief science officer to work on climate related issues and vetoed a bill that would have prevented cities from banning plastic straws.

  • Donald Trump Jr.: If Junior runs in 2024, the RNC won't have to throw out all of its excess Donald Trump yard signs, bumper stickers, and related paraphernalia. More than any of the other potential candidates, Junior could run on a platform of "I can trigger the libs more than any of the others." In fact, he even wrote a book entitled Triggered to demonstrate his abilities in this area. It wasn't clear how well it would sell, so the RNC stepped in and bought $94,800 worth of copies from a retail source to help propel it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. If Republican voters want a man born to wealth who fancies himself as a man of the people, and who hurls brickbats daily at liberals and media figures, Junior is their man. Trump Sr. would probably prefer his favorite child, Ivanka, to run, but she says she is not interested.

  • Donald Trump Sr.: Maybe Junior will have to wait, though. Suppose the current president loses the election in 2020. He could bounce back and run in 2024. Can a president serve two nonconsecutive terms? Sure. Grover (actually, Stephen) Cleveland ran for reelection in 1888 and won the popular vote, but lost the Electoral College to Benjamin Harrison. Undaunted, Cleveland ran again in 1892, winning the popular vote for a third consecutive election, but this time also winning the electoral vote. Of course, how realistic a Trump Sr. run in 2024 is depends on how well he does in 2020. If he is crushed, the GOP is not likely to nominate him. If he narrowly loses, it might. Of course, if he is in the Big House at the time, he is not going to move to the White House. Also, a not-so-healthy 78-year-old candidate might give some people pause.

  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: October 13, 2024, will be a big day for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: It's her 35th birthday, conveniently 3 weeks before election day 2024 (it is sufficient for a presidential candidate to be 35 on Inauguration Day). If Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders do well in the primaries but neither is elected president, progressives may decide AOC is their future. Talk about generational change. Could someone that young be a plausible candidate? Check with Pete Buttigieg (37) on that. And Ocasio-Cortez will have 6 years of federal experience by January 2025, which is 6 years more than Buttigieg has. A lot depends on how high her profile is in the coming 4 years. If Trump wins, she could be one of the highest profile Democrats in the coming years. If a Democrat wins, she will have to wait her turn.

  • Gavin Newsom: The governors of California, Texas, Florida, and New York are automatically serious presidential candidates. Politico lists Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) as a possibility, but we don't believe this at all. If he wanted the top job, 2020 would have been his year and he didn't go for it. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) is only 52 now and clearly very ambitious. If he does well as governor and is popular, he could clearly be a serious candidate if there is no incumbent running.

  • Andy Beshear: Could a moderate red-state Democratic governor run for president? Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) gave it a shot and it didn't work, but hope springs eternal. If the Democrats nominate a lefty this year and Trump crushes him or her, many Democrats are going to be thinking that maybe trying a moderate is a good idea. That's where Beshear (42) comes in. The circumstances have to play out just right for him, but it's a possibility.

  • Stacey Abrams: Demography is not necessarily destiny, but in Stacey Abrams, the Democrats have not only a black woman, but also one who is charismatic and an excellent public speaker. She was almost elected governor of Georgia in 2018 and many people believe that were it not for some shenanigans on the part of then-Georgia Secretary of State (and now governor) Brian Kemp (R), she would have won. Her future viability depends almost entirely on what happens in 2020. If she is on the Democratic ticket, most likely with Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, she will be in a good position in 2024. If the incumbent president declines to run for reelection due to his advanced age, she will certainly run. If Trump wins in 2020, but she does a good job of campaigning this year and no one blames her for the Democrats' loss, she will be ready to roll in 2024. A potential problem for her is that if she and AOC both run and split the progressive vote, an old white guy could get the nomination. A preview of this movie might even be playing at a theater near you right now.

SurveyMonkey ran a poll among Republican voters asking about who their 2024 favorite was. Here are the results:

2024 race

But just remember, people who seem like obvious candidates now may not be in 4 years and people who are not on the radar now may suddenly be big stars in 4 years. (V)

Another House Republican Retires

Rep. David "Phil" Roe (R-TN) has announced that he will not run for reelection. His district in northeast Tennessee is R+28 and Donald Trump won it by 57 points, so he could have stayed in Congress until he died if he wanted to. He had prostate cancer in 2017 and considered retiring in 2018, but after his surgery, he (somewhat reluctantly) decided to go for another term. Now he has had enough. Being in the minority in the House is no fun at all and he decided that playing with his grandchildren would be more fun. Given the tilt of his district, there is likely to be a big fight in the Republican primary because all the local politicians know that whoever wins the primary can serve in Congress the rest of his life. There is no chance this seat will flip. So far, 26 House Republicans and 9 House Democrats have said they will not run for reelection this year. See the "House retirements" link to the left of the map above for the full list. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan05 Sunday Mailbag
Jan04 Saturday Q&A
Jan03 Iranian General Killed on Trump's Orders
Jan03 Evidence Against Trump Continues to Mount
Jan03 More Q4 Fundraising Numbers Are In
Jan03 Bloomberg Makes His Strategy Official
Jan03 Castro Gives Up
Jan03 Williamson Campaign Enters Its Death Throes
Jan03 Why Do Young Voters Hate Pete Buttigieg?
Jan03 Unions Are Cool on Sanders This Time
Jan03 Five Fights to Expect in Congress
Jan03 Over 200 Members of Congress Ask Supreme Court to Revisit Roe v. Wade
Jan02 Trump Says He Will Sign China Trade Deal on January 15
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