Trump’s Tweets Didn’t Help
Democrats Pause Vote on War Powers Resolution
McConnell Win on Trial Rules Was Months In the Making
Bloomberg Seeks Capitol Hill Outreach
Trump’s House Warriors Sidelined for Senate Trial
Iran Has ‘Concluded’ Its Attacks
• Bolton Says He's Willing to Testify
• Q4 Fundraising Numbers Are Almost Complete
• Yang Can't Figure Out Where to Spend His Money
• Castro Endorses Warren
• Pompeo Says He Won't Run for the Senate
• Chelsea Clinton Collected $9 Million for Board of Directors Work
On Oct. 27 of last year, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed by the U.S. military, on orders of Donald Trump. The President was almost universally lauded for that act, as Baghdadi was universally understood to be a dangerous enemy of the United States, and a legitimate target of military action.
One wonders if this incident emboldened Trump when it came to ordering the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. After all, he loves to be praised, and he loves to look powerful. At the very least, as someone who doesn't grasp rather significant distinctions—like, say, the distinction between an accused terrorist who represents no national government, and an accused terrorist who is a high-ranking military official within a major national government—Trump surely expected that this week's killings would be received in the same manner as October's. Not so much, as it turns out. In fact, the Iran situation has developed into at least a half-dozen headaches for the administration:
- Iraq: There was a time when Iraq and Iran really hated one another, and the Iraqis would
have greeted the death of a major Iranian leader with much delight. That time has passed, however. Today, Iraq is
something of a client state of Iran, and on top of that, the Iraqis (quite reasonably) regard a killing done on their
soil as a violation of their sovereignty. The Iraqi parliament is
expel the remaining American troops in Iraq. On Monday, the White House
to respond with sanctions against the Iraqis.
- Motivations, Part I: The exact reason for the attack on Soleimani is pretty important, as
it brings up issues under domestic politics, domestic law, and international law. The Trump
administration has argued that the attack was
an "imminent threat." It is not surprising that they would take this position, as it would be politically acceptable, would
justify keeping Congress out of the loop, and would make everything ok under international law. The problem is that the
White House has been unable to articulate exactly what the imminent threat was, much less to provide any evidence of that
imminent threat. This makes it look like Trump—brace yourself—might be
about his motivations. Shades of the Iraq War, and claims of "Weapons of Mass Destruction."
- Motivations, Part II: When Trump was elected president, one of the biggest concerns that
many people had was that a temper tantrum would cause him to start a war. It's starting to look like that's the real
explanation for what happened here. To start, in addition to the lack of a good explanation for why the attack was
ordered, there's also
of an overall plan, or thought having been put into what happens next. Further, reports out of the White House
that what caused the President to give the order was not a new piece of intelligence, or fear of an imminent attack, but
instead his anger over the death of an American at Soleimani's hands, which Trump felt "crossed a line." Also
contributing to this way of looking of things is this weekend's
by a high-ranking White House official, that the strategic doctrine of this administration is "We're America, bitch!"
That is quite reminiscent of a
from the 2004 movie: "Team America: World Police." Of course, that movie was a satire of a U.S. government whose Middle
Eastern policy had gotten out of control.
- War Crime?: Also adding to the impression that Trump isn't especially clear about what
he's doing, and that he's being guided by emotion, is his
to bomb cultural sites in Iran. His exact words: "They're allowed to kill our people, they're allowed to torture and
maim our people, they're allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people, and we're not allowed to touch their
cultural sites? It doesn't work that way."
In fact, deliberately targeting cultural sites is a war crime, forbidden by the Geneva Conventions. The basic logic is that there is no military value to doing this, and so it is excessive and is outsides the boundaries of just warfare. Torture is forbidden too, actually, though Trump is conveniently forgetting that the United States has ignored that particular rule more than once. In any event, the Pentagon understands the rules of war, so they said that they will not be bombing Bisotun, Golestan Palace, Pasargadae, or Historic City of Yazd, though Trump says he stands by his threat.
- Congress: As a matter of American law, the Trump administration is required to advise
Congress on military strikes within 48 hours. In a continuation of three years of Trump's governing style, and also
a likely preview of what will happen once he is acquitted in the impeachment trial, he managed to find the most
dismissive manner possible of "fulfilling" the law, utilizing...Twitter, naturally. Here's the key tweet:
These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner. Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2020
Needless to say, the members of Congress are not happy, and are working on various means of curtailing the President's power. Obviously, the chances that anything actually happens depend on Trump aggravating enough Republican senators to create a veto-proof majority. The way he's going, it just might happen.
- The Iranian Response: Soleimani was a controversial figure in Iran, but his death appears to have unified much of the populace. Vast numbers of people have attended his funeral procession, which is now stretching into its third day, and chants of "death to America" have been common. We already know that the Iranians are going to resume uranium enrichment with an eye toward building a nuclear bomb, but beyond that everyone is waiting for the next shoe to drop. If the Iranians really want to test Trump's resolve, they could announce: "Since you are considering hitting our cultural sites, we are considering attacks against yours, such as Trump hotels. People who don't want to die should avoid them." They wouldn't have to actually attack any, but the announcement alone would sure hit Trump where it hurts most: In his wallet.
So, Trump definitely has his first full-blown foreign policy crisis; that is beyond all doubt at this point. And it figures to get messier before all is said and done. (Z)
It was Russia that Winston Churchill described as "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma," but he could just as well have been talking about John Bolton. It's not easy to understand what motivates the former NSA, who dropped a bit of a bombshell on Monday. After many months of saying he would not talk to Congress unless a court ordered him to do so, he posted a statement to his website announcing that if he gets a subpoena from the Senate, he'll be happy to oblige. Here are his exact words:
The House has concluded its Constitutional responsibility by adopting Articles of Impeachment related to the Ukraine matter. It now falls to the Senate to fulfill its Constitutional obligation to try impeachments, and it does not appear possible that a final judicial resolution of the still-unanswered Constitutional questions can be obtained before the Senate acts.
Accordingly, since my testimony is once again at issue, I have had to resolve the serious competing issues as best I could, based on careful consideration and study. I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify.
If Bolton did testify, he would certainly be in a position to do a lot of damage to Donald Trump. The former NSA was a first-hand witness to much of what happened between the President and Ukraine and, as a long-time hardcore conservative, it can hardly be said that Bolton is a member of the deep state, or is a Democratic operative.
What is going on, here? That is to say, why did Bolton reach this decision, and why did he reach it now? Noting again the riddle/mystery/enigma thing, here are the best theories we've got:
- It's About Iran, Part I: Bolton is a hawk, particularly on Iran. The U.S., as you may have
heard, just attacked Iran. It's easy to imagine that the timing of the announcement is a product of the bombing. It's
possible that the former NSA, having gotten his fondest wish, is prepared to return the favor and to give strongly
pro-Trump testimony before the Senate.
- It's About Iran, Part II: Alternatively, it could be that Bolton has now gotten what he
wanted from the Trump administration, and he no longer has any concerns about taking actions that might bring the
- Skirting the Law: Bolton does not particularly want to defend himself in court, should it
come to that, nor to look like a scofflaw. So, it could be that the key to his timing is not the Iran bombing, but that
the House has (ostensibly) finished its impeachment investigation. Undoubtedly the former NSA knows that the Senate is
less likely to take him up on his offer than the House would have been.
- Selling Books: Bolton, of course, has a contract to write a tell-all book. It's possible
that he has decided this is a good PR opportunity that would goose book sales. It's also possible that he has some sort
of smoking gun, and that he's realized that if that information does not see the light of day until October, he would be
guilty of compromising the security of the United States in order to sell a few more books. That's not a good look for
an author, particularly one who is going to collect millions regardless of sales totals.
- I want to be the new John Dean: The only person who came out of Watergate looking
pretty good was John Dean. And Dean even made money writing some successful books. Bolton undoubtedly know this.
Maybe he wants to follow in Dean's footsteps and become a hero as well as a successful author.
- Time Takes Time: Maybe Bolton is telling the truth, and it just took him some time to turn things over in his head and decide on a proper course of action. This does not seem the likeliest explanation, but you never know.
Perhaps we've hit on a winner, and maybe we haven't, but the odds are good we'll never know for sure. Even if Bolton's book is tell-all, it probably won't tell-all about his decision process here.
So, is Bolton going to end up testifying, then? On Monday, the various GOP members of the Senate were largely noncommittal, with most saying they would take a "wait and see" attitude. That includes the three alleged moderates, namely Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who have all said they want a proper trial, and yet who were unwilling on Monday to say they definitely wanted to hear from (arguably) the most important witness who has not already spoken up. This is par for the course for that trio, who talk a good talk, but don't walk much of a walk.
One of the Republican senators who did take a stand on the question was Marco Rubio (R-FL), who said: "If the House wants to start a new impeachment inquiry or pull it back and add additional elements to it, that's their choice to make." This could be another case of "be careful what you wish for, you might just get it." There is nothing stopping House Democrats from subpoenaing Bolton at any moment, if they wish to do so. They can even say, "Hey, we've been advised that it's our job to do all the investigating." Bolton only allowed for a Senate subpoena in his statement, but if the House comes calling, how is he going to dance out of that? How can he justify ignoring a House subpoena if he's willing to obey a Senate subpoena? You can bet that House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are asking themselves these same questions right now. (Z)
In the last few days, several more Democratic presidential candidates have announced their fundraising totals for Q4 of 2019. Specifically, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who brought in $21.2M, Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), who collected $11.4 million, and Cory Booker (D-NJ), who tallied $6.6M. Here's the table of totals for each quarter of 2019 (excepting the handful of Q4 totals that have not yet been reported):
|Candidate||Q1||Q2||Q3||Q4||Q4 vs. Q3|
At this point, we have all the numbers that matter. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and John Delaney will file sometime this month, and we'll learn that they collected relatively little; between $500,000 and $2M each. Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer will undoubtedly have very high takes that are primarily the result of them taking out their own checkbooks.
Anyhow, with all the important numbers in, we can make a few observations:
- We stand by our assessment that Trump's total is good but not great. His fundraising operation operates at full
blast 24-7, and yet he barely outraised Barack Obama's 2011 Q4. In fact, if you adjust for inflation, Trump actually
lagged Obama. Meanwhile, the Democratic field, as a whole, left Trump in the dust.
- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is a moneymaking machine (his operation also operates at full blast 24-7, by the way).
Obviously, he easily outdistanced his Democratic rivals, and he lapped most of them. What heart attack?
- Andrew Yang and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) also have to be pleased, given the dramatic uptick in donations. That
said, it's going to be very hard to turn that money into votes, especially in just five weeks (more below).
- Joe Biden, by contrast, has to be at least a little bit concerned. Third place is not good for a "frontrunner,"
especially when the guy right above you on the list was an unknown nine months ago.
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren's take is also underwhelming, which is presumably why she snuck her press release in right before the weekend. Actually, her total take is fine, but the fact that she's the only Democrat (so far) to underperform their Q3 haul will feed into the narrative that she's lost momentum.
In any event, the next time we look at fundraising numbers (circa April 1), the list is undoubtedly going to be a lot shorter, and the numbers are undoubtedly going to be a lot larger. (Z)
Andrew Yang is, compared to the early months of his campaign, awash in cash. You might think that's a nice problem to have, but it's created a fair bit of tension among the members of his campaign, as they can't decide where to spend it: Iowa or New Hampshire. Iowa's a bit more important, because it goes first and has more delegates, but New Hampshire is where Yang has been spending most of his time, and where he thinks his message is more resonant.
There's actually an easy answer to the question, though it may not be the one Team Yang wants to hear. They shouldn't spend their money in either of those places. To start, Iowa's caucus system essentially demands retail campaigning by the candidate himself. Folks there have had a chance at personal contact with all of the frontrunners, and no quantity of commercials or hired campaign surrogates is going to countermand that. Yang can either spend his next five weeks in the Hawkeye State, going from county to county and pressing the flesh, or he can punt. He isn't going to buy much support, especially since a Bernie Sanders or a Joe Biden can easily outspend him 2-to-1.
As to New Hampshire, the good thing is that it's a cheap place to run a campaign. Commercial time is cheap, and you don't need that many staffers to cover the state pretty effectively. The bad thing is that it's a cheap place to run a campaign. All the other Democrats know this, and are spending what they need to spend to run a viable campaign in the Granite State. Yes, Yang could drop $3 million there, which is a veritable fortune, but so can the five Democrats ahead of him in the polls.
On top of that, consider that on caucus day, Iowa will award 27 delegates, while on primary day New Hampshire will award 16. At the moment, Yang is polling at 3% in the former, and 4% in the latter, which means he's in line to get zero delegates. Even if he dumps seven figures into each state, and everything breaks the right way, he might—in the most optimistic of scenarios—pick up 3-4 delegates in Iowa and 1-2 in New Hampshire. That won't be enough to create a "momentum" narrative, and it isn't even a drop in the bucket when it comes to the nearly 2,000 delegates needed for the nomination.
In general, we believe that money doesn't do candidates nearly as much good as it used to. Television commercials are ineffective, in part because there are so many candidates running them, and in part because so many folks consume TV in ways that allow them to avoid commercials. Targeted online advertising certainly seems to work, but it's also cheap. Ground game is nice, but there are limits to how much good campaign workers can do when it comes to swaying votes. Sophisticated polling and get-out-the-vote operations are efficacious, but really only in the general election.
All this is to say is that there really isn't any great way for Yang to spend that money which, while a lot for him, is still dwarfed by the takes of his rivals, particularly Sanders. However, if Yang's going to go all-in on a state, it makes a lot more sense to choose one of the Super Tuesday states, like California, where the competition isn't quite so fierce right now, and where the rewards are more meaningful. (Z)
Last week, Julián Castro ended his presidential campaign. Yesterday, he announced his preferred candidate from among the remaining Democrats. It's Elizabeth Warren, whom Castro described in his press release as, "one candidate I see who's unafraid to fight like hell to make sure America's promise will be there for everyone."
Will this make any difference whatsoever? We are very skeptical. Castro struggled to get 1 in 100 Democrats to flock to his own banner, so how is he going to deliver any meaningful amount of support to Warren? The only place it might make a difference is Castro's home state of Texas, where Warren is polling right on the 15% boundary between getting delegates and not getting delegates. If Castro's support gives her a bump in the Lone Star State, there could be a number of districts where she collects a few delegates as opposed to collecting zero thanks to Castro's endorsement. What Castro certainly cannot do is swing any meaningful number of Latino voters in Warren's direction. As we've noted several times, poll after poll makes clear that the Latinos like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, and neither of them is going anywhere anytime soon. (Z)
One of Kansas' two U.S. Senate seats will be vacant next year, as Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) has decided to retire. Mitch McConnell's preferred candidate for that seat is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Secretary has pooh-poohed the idea of pursuing the job, and on Monday he told McConnell that he's not interested.
If that is indeed the final word, then it's bad news for the GOP, because it leaves Kris Kobach as the clear frontrunner in the GOP primary. The problem with Kobach is that about 40% of Kansans are devoted supporters, while the other 60%, including many Republicans, can't stomach his ultra-far-right politics, his efforts to deprive Americans of their votes, and his general lack of competence. That's enough votes to claim a nomination but not enough to win a general election. Indeed, just a little over a year ago, Kobach was trounced in a statewide election (48% to 43%) by Gov. Laura Kelly (D-KS). That's a very poor result in a very red state.
With that said, there's still time for Pompeo to change his mind. The filing deadline is not until June 1, and if the impeachment trial goes badly, or if the Secretary ends up in Trump's doghouse (perhaps taking the blame for the Iran situation), he could very well change his mind. Of course, every day he waits is one less day of campaigning, so he will undoubtedly get a visit from McConnell in about a month asking if he's really certain he's not interested. (Z)
It would seem that being the child of one president and one-near president is an excellent business to be in, as Barron's reports that since accepting a position on the board of directors of IAC/InterActiveCorp in 2011, Chelsea Clinton has collected over $9 million. That is, in part, a function of the hefty compensation packages offered to corporate boards and in part a byproduct of the success of IAC. In the time Clinton has been with the firm, its stock's value has risen from less than $40 a share to more than $255 a share, meaning that the stock the former First Daughter has received in compensation is now worth about $8.9 million. She also gets a $50,000/year retainer.
It is hard to see how anyone, much less someone with no business experience, is worth more than $1 million a year. That said, IAC has seen a 500% increase in value in less than a decade, so maybe they know what they are doing. In any case, the reason that this is a political story is that right-wing types are undoubtedly going to use it as evidence of shady behavior on the part of Hunter Biden, and thus further proof that Donald Trump was right to withhold aid from Ukraine. Something along the lines of, "Is there any prominent Democrat who's not using their influence to help their kids' careers as corporate board members?" That line of reasoning doesn't really stand up to scrutiny; lots of folks (including lots of Republicans) have served on corporate boards and collected fat salaries. Further, Chelsea Clinton and Hunter Biden have no particular connection beyond being the children of prominent Democrats, and even if they did, that does not make their particular arrangements corrupt. Still, that won't stop the connection from being made. In fact it already is being made. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan06 Congress May Clash with Trump over War Powers
Jan06 Will the Iran Situation Help Buttigieg?
Jan06 Sanders Soars
Jan06 Appeals Court Hears Arguments in McGahn Case
Jan06 A Report from Trumpland
Jan06 Who's Ahead? 2024 Edition
Jan06 Another House Republican Retires
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