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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Iran Makes Its Move...
      •  ...And So Does McConnell
      •  Democrats May Postpone Next Debate
      •  Flynn Looking at 6 Months
      •  Hunter Finally Resigns
      •  The Law of Unintended Consequences
      •  Trump Jr. Continues to Run the Trump Sr. Playbook

Iran Makes Its Move...

That certainly didn't take long. Having threatened multiple times to avenge the death of General Qasem Soleimani, the Iranians made good their threat on Tuesday, firing a number of ballistic missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq.

Thus far, there is no indication that any Americans were killed. It's not even 100% clear that anyone was injured. Here is the tweet that Trump sent after the attack:

Trump has been known to lie, of course, but it's unlikely he could keep American deaths a secret if there were any. So, our guess is that he's telling the truth.

Indeed, this has a very rote feel to it. That is to say, assuming the state of affairs holds as it is currently understood, this looks an awful lot like an attack designed to satisfy the Iranian people ("We fired missiles! At American soldiers!") but at the same time meant to poke the U.S. and Trump in the eye as little as is possible, and to leave open the possibility that no response is needed. Statements released by the Iranian government after the attack also suggest this interpretation; they made a point of explaining how the response was justified under international law while also noting that no more escalation would be necessary unless Trump chooses to keep the cycle going. This makes sense; while Iran probably would not "lose" a war with the United States, they would certainly take a pounding that they don't want.

We will presumably soon learn whether or not Trump is going to accept this olive branch (of sorts). He's got a press conference scheduled for this morning, and he could very well announce that the Iranians are such losers and their attack was so pathetic that there's no need to respond. That seems the most likely tack he'll take, as he doesn't particularly want a war, either, for a number of reasons. First of all, opposition to wars in the Middle East is one of his few core political tenets. Second, he knows that a war with Iran would be ugly, and would be damaging for both the United States and for his political career. Third, he realizes that the U.S. would likely end up going it alone, as the nations of Europe have no interest in helping out. Finally, the stock market fell sharply on Monday, and oil prices shot up, and the President surely knows that a recession would be bad news for him. That said, Trump remains a hothead, and he's been getting mileage out of portraying the Democrats as Iranian sympathizers, so it's at least possible he keeps this going. Nobody knows for sure what he's going to do until he does it. Including him, in most cases.

A potential wrinkle emerged very late Tuesday night, when a Ukrainian flight departing Tehran's airport crashed, killing everyone on board (170-180 people, depending on your source). It is likely just a coincidence, albeit a remarkable one, that a flight traveling between the two nations with whom Trump is having major issues right now crashed. After all, it's hard to see who would benefit from this. That said, given that the U.S. shot down Iran Air Flight 655 in 1988, and then afterwards said (somewhat unconvincingly) it was an accident, it's at least possible that this turns into something nefarious. (Z)

...And So Does McConnell

With Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) currently refusing to hand over the articles of impeachment, and former NSA John Bolton announcing on Monday his willingness to testify, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) went on offense on Tuesday, and announced that he has the votes to establish rules for the impeachment trial without any Democratic input. That means that his entire caucus has fallen into line behind him, including Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Mitt Romney (R-UT). As we have noted many times, these folks are pretty good at expressing "concern," but when push comes to shove, they generally remain loyal foot soldiers.

What this means is that, at the moment, McConnell has outmaneuvered Pelosi. If she doesn't hand over the articles of impeachment, the implied threat is that they whole matter will be dismissed. She put on a good face on Tuesday, and declared that McConnell must first publish the impeachment rules before she will take any action. However, she's got little room to maneuver, and will presumably have to yield on this matter very soon. Even her own party knows it; see below for the discussion the DNC is having about the possible need to postpone next Tuesday's debate. There would be no need to have that discussion if a Pelosi surrender was not imminent.

With that said, while McConnell appears to have won this particular battle, the war is still underway. The Bolton thing remains a significant issue; if Senate Republicans want this trial to look at least nominally legitimate, they can hardly justify not hearing from him. If they nonetheless stick their fingers in their ears and say "No thanks, Johnny B!" then some of the senators up in 2020 could feel the wrath of the voters. So, this is just the latest chapter in this story, not the final chapter. (Z)

Democrats May Postpone Next Debate

Now that Mitch McConnell has made his move, which will likely force a commencement of the impeachment trial sometime in the very near future, the Democrats have started thinking about the timing of their next debate, currently scheduled for next Tuesday in Iowa. Three of the folks who have qualified for the debate are senators, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, from them to get from Washington to Iowa in time for the debate. It's a three-hour flight, and the debate is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. ET. If, for example, the Senate adjourned at 5:30 p.m., that would be too late. Further, it would hardly be fair to allow the non-senators to spend all day on prep while the senators have to spend their day hearing testimony. For these reasons, DNC Chair Tom Perez announced on Tuesday that the debate will indeed be rescheduled if it conflicts with the impeachment trial.

What Perez did not say is whether or not a change in the debate schedule would cause him to reset the deadline for qualifying, which is currently this Friday. The odds are very high that the deadline stands, regardless of what else happens. If so, then barring an unexpected development, the stage is going to be less crowded than in December, with Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer missing the cut, leaving a field of just five debaters. This is, in part, due to the higher standards for qualifying (5% in four polls, or 7% in two early-state polls, plus 225,000 donors). However, it is also because most pollsters largely close down during the holiday season, to give their employees/student volunteers time off, and also because people aren't available to answer questions when there's a ham and a turkey on the table. So, there just haven't been that many polls that might plausibly be used to qualify—only about a dozen of them. It's at least possible that the DNC makes some sort of accommodation for this, especially since an all-white debate field is not the best look for the Party. But again, we doubt it. (Z)

Flynn Looking at 6 Months

Former general and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has been a very naughty boy. There are the original crimes that got him into hot water, of course, specifically his failure to register as a foreign agent. And since he agreed to turn state's evidence, he's been extremely uncooperative, up to and including efforts to undermine the prosecution of his associate Bijan Rafiekian.

To the extent that the law allows them to do so, prosecutors want to throw the book at him. On Tuesday, they asked Judge Emmet Sullivan to impose a sentence of six months. That seems rather light to us, but sentencing guidlines are sentencing guidelines, we guess. Sullivan, during his remarks in open court, seemed inclined to grant the sentence. But whatever happens, the political significance of this is that Flynn will soon be forgotten, and his sentence will not be long enough to cause Donald Trump to consider using the pardon power. So, another potential millstone around the President's neck has been avoided. (Z)

Hunter Finally Resigns

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) is a crook, having pleaded guilty to misuse of campaign funds. And for those who had any doubts about whether or not he is a standup guy, he used some of that money to conduct several different extramarital affairs, and then—before it be came clear that he was going to have to face the music—he had the temerity to blame his wife for the misappropriated funds. Hunter, incidentally, was the second member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump's presidential bid. Perhaps that is just a coincidence. On the other hand, the first member of Congress to endorse Trump—Chris Collins of New York—is also a crook, and also pleaded guilty to financial crimes. So, maybe it's not a coincidence at all.

Anyhow, since Hunter agreed to plead guilty, he has been a dead man walking in Congress. He was stripped of his committee assignments and his right to vote, and was essentially just there to eat bean soup in the congressional cafeteria. Had he tried to hang on, he would have been expelled, especially since he's going to be sentenced to about a year in prison on March 18. On Tuesday, the Representative finally bowed to reality and resigned.

At the moment, CA-25 (Katie Hill), MD-07 (Elijah Cummings), NY-27 (Collins), WI-07 (Sean Duffy), and CA-50 (Hunter) are open, and all will be filled before November. Cummings' former district is 59% black, and 63% blue, and with a PVI of D+26, it is going to stay in Democratic hands. On the other hand, Hill's former district is Even, Duffy's is R+8, and Collins' and Hunter's are both R+11. So, both parties will have an opportunity to make a statement heading into election season. If the Democrats go 3-for-4 in the contested districts, or maybe even 2-for-4, it's going to mean a lot of sleepless nights for the National Republican Congressional Committee. On the other hand, if the Republicans pull off a sweep, then it will be the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that won't be sleeping well. (Z)

The Law of Unintended Consequences

We're on roll, so let's keep talking about criminals. In this case, however, the criminals are folks who, unlike Flynn, Hunter, and Collins, have already paid their debt to society. As you probably know, particularly if you've been following this site for any amount of time, the voters of Florida decided to re-enfranchise non-violent felons who have been released from prison. Given the United States' penchant for throwing people in prison, that's a non-trivial number of Floridians, about 1.4 million of them.

Florida Republicans, led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, decided they weren't happy about that, as they know full well that there are more Democrats among those 1.4 million than Republicans. That's a product, in particular, of the United States' penchant for throwing black people in prison (black folks are about 7.5 times more likely to be sent to prison than white folks). Anyhow, DeSantis & Co. quickly rammed through a new law that said that felons could not regain their voting rights until they had paid off any debts remaining from their trials. Since those debts can run into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and since being in prison is not known for being a great way to make money, the new law effectively re-disenfranchised a big chunk of those 1.4 million people.

Or maybe not. At the last moment, in response to political pressure and the threat of a court challenge, the law was modified to allow courts to cancel the fines. And four counties—Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Hillsborough—have decided to take full advantage, and are running "rocket docket" sessions where felons' debts are expunged with great rapidity. Here is a map of the 2016 presidential election results by county:

Palm Beach and Hillsborough are moderately 
blue, Miami-Dade and Broward are deep blue

The three counties in the southeast corner are, from north to south, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade. Hillborough is the non-peninsular county on the western coast that encircles much of Tampa Bay. As you can see, these are among the bluest countries in Florida. They are also the most populous, home to about a third of the state's population.

The somewhat ironic result, then: Democratic felons appear regaining their voting rights at a far brisker pace than Republican felons, as the state's Republican counties have held firm on the disenfranchisement, and have not taken steps to return people to the voter rolls. As a reminder, Donald Trump won the state by about 110,000 votes in 2016. If we make the reasonable assumptions that the four "rocket docket" counties restore the voting rights of 250,000 people, and that those folks break 2-to-1 for the Democrats, and that they have a turnout rate of 55%, that's a net gain of about 41,000 votes for the blue team. Obviously, 41,000 is a fairly sizable part of the way to 110,000, and that is before we consider all the newly arrived Puerto Ricans in the state. (Z)

Trump Jr. Continues to Run the Trump Sr. Playbook

Donald Trump Jr. thinks of himself as a viable presidential candidate in 2024. To that end, he's been running the Trump family political playbook, so as to position himself as his old man's successor-in-waiting. There are, of course, the rally appearances, the endless photographs of hunted animals, the snottiest Twitter account this side of Trump Sr., and so forth. There's also young Trump's recent book "Triggered," which is all about how evil the libs are, and how you too can own them.

Yesterday, Trump Jr. performed another classic Trumpian maneuver, and posted a picture of himself to Instagram in which he's holding a large semi-automatic rifle. The gun, and whatever it is he's compensating for, is not the issue, however. It's the decorative elements, which include a picture of Hillary Clinton behind bars and a Crusader cross. Here's a zoom of the key portion of the image:

The picture of Clinton is on the bullet clip,
while the Crusader cross is directly above that

Perhaps you've seen the Crusader cross before. Say, in pictures like this one:

Two Klansmen from the 1920s, with the Crusader
Cross on both their horses' livery and on their Klan robes

Indeed, the Crusader cross has been a symbol of the Klan, and of white supremacists in general, for over a century.

Needless to say, that is a very strange thing to put on one's gun without knowing what one is doing. Still, everyone makes a mistake once in a while, right? Except that this is hardly the first time Trump Jr. has done this. He's posted white supremacist memes to Instagram. He's retweeted infamous anti-Semite Kevin MacDonald. He's done interviews with white supremacist radio hosts. He's compared refugees to poisoned Skittles. Every time young Trump is called to account for himself, he claims ignorance. That is probably a fair assessment, although not in the way that Trump Jr. thinks it is.

In short, the First Son is using barely-encoded dog whistles in order to build bridges to racist white voters, just as his father has done. This suggests that anyone who thinks the racism and xenophobia will disappear from American politics once Trump Sr. does is likely to be disappointed, especially since Trump Jr. is not likely to be the only candidate to decide there's still electoral gold here. Whether that is a correct analysis, given that another five years of demographic change will have taken place by 2024, time will tell. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan07 Iran Situation Gets Messier and Messier for Trump Administration
Jan07 Bolton Says He's Willing to Testify
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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
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Jan03 Williamson Campaign Enters Its Death Throes
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Jan02 Elections to Watch in 2020
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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
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