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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Democrats Begin to Lay out Their Case
      •  Democrats Nix Witness Trade
      •  Poll: Slight Majority Wants to See Trump Removed from Office
      •  Poll: Sanders Moves into the Lead Nationally
      •  Clinton Walks Back Comment about Sanders
      •  Gabbard Sues Clinton
      •  Time to End Newspaper Endorsements?

Democrats Begin to Lay out Their Case

Late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning, Chief Justice and presiding officer of the impeachment trial John Roberts chewed out folks on both sides of the trial for their behavior. "It is appropriate for me to admonish both the House managers and the President's counsel in equal terms," the Chief said, after a heated exchange between impeachment manager Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Trump defense attorney/White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

Chastened, it would seem, Democrats cooled their jets, and—particularly once Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) took the lead—tried to keep their rhetoric in check, and their eyes on the target. And that target, as they began to lay out their case, was Donald Trump. There weren't any new revelations, at least not so far, but there was extensive use of the President's own words and actions against him. And the point was not just that Trump did wrong in the case of Ukraine, but that he's a dangerous fellow whose leadership has profoundly harmed the United States, and will continue to do so, for however long it's allowed to continue.

In short, Team Schiff has a very clear audience in mind, and it ain't the 100 senators. Heck the senators are already having trouble paying attention. Though the rules state they are supposed to remain at their desks and give their undivided focus to the proceedings, that standard isn't exactly being adhered to. Folks are leaving the chamber for unscheduled breaks, exchanging notes like it's a second-grade classroom and, in at least a couple of cases, (apparently) using their smartwatches to get around the ban on cell phones.

No matter, though, because the Democrats' audience is the fence-sitters, the persuadables, the swing voters across the country. As the various polls of impeachment make clear (see below for an example), there is some percentage of the electorate (around 5%) whose minds aren't made up on this matter. There are also at least some folks who dislike the idea of removing the President at the end of an impeachment stick, but who are open to voting him out of office. Making a generally calm and level-headed case that even if Trump survives impeachment, he cannot continue in office for four more years, may just influence some of these folks in November when it comes time for them to cast their ballots. It may also get some of them to call their senators, say in Maine or Colorado, to express support for calling witnesses like former NSA John Bolton. Incidentally, the leader of the blue team's spin operation is, not surprisingly, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who somehow manages to find his way onto some television program or another every time the Senate takes a break.

The Republican approach is a little different. They, particularly (though not exclusively) Trump's defense team, appeared not to have heard Roberts' admonition, as various sorts of lying and bomb-throwing continued throughout the day from that side of the proceedings. Further, the main theme of GOP commentary is not really the President's innocence, it's denigrating the whole process. In short, the view taken by the defense (and its supporters in the gallery) is more short-term, and focused on the here and now. It's also more attuned to firing up the base, and not so much to reaching out to persuadables beyond the base.

Of course, the Republicans are taking their cues from Trump here. He is always laser-focused on the current crisis, without much planning for tomorrow, next week, or next month, and he is invariably concerned only about speaking to the base, everyone else be damned. The President did everything he could to supplement the efforts of his attorneys and his supporters in the Senate, going absolutely hog wild on Twitter. He left his previous daily record of 123 tweets in the dust, sending out 142 of them on Wednesday. In the midst of that was a single hour with 44 tweets, an average of one every 88 seconds. We'd embed some of them here, except you already know what they all said.

Anyhow, that is where things stand, as the two sides have really begun to lay their cards on the table. We shall see if Thursday brings any surprises, especially since the Democrats will be two-thirds of the way through their speaking time by the time the day ends. (Z)

Democrats Nix Witness Trade

One idea that has been proposed to break the stalemate over calling witnesses at the impeachment trial is to call former NSA John Bolton (which is what the Democrats want) and also Hunter or Joe Biden (which is what the Republicans want). Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) ruled this out, saying "I think that's off the table," and then adding "This isn't like some fantasy football trade."

In addition, Biden said he would refuse to be part of such a deal. Republicans would like to get one of the Bidens on the witness stand and to ask irrelevant questions simply because to low-information voters (much of their base) it would look like the Bidens were guilty of something. All the Republicans want from a Biden testifying is the optics. No information is required. This is analogous to Donald Trump wanting to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce he was going to investigate the Bidens but not caring whether Zelensky actually did it. It was just about the optics.

In contrast, the Democrats really want to hear what Bolton has to say. They are refusing the trade because they see not making the trade as a win-win situation. If all the Republicans vote to refuse to call witnesses, Democrats in Colorado, Arizona, Maine, North Carolina and a few other states will make the Senate campaigns all about how the incumbent senator is part of the cover-up. If those Republican senators vote for witnesses, they are hoping Bolton will damage Trump badly. In one case, the Democratic Senate candidates get a helping hand. In the other, the Democratic presidential nominee gets some help. So why give the Republicans anything when not giving them anything is win-win for the Democrats? (V)

Poll: Slight Majority Wants to See Trump Removed from Office

A new Pew Research poll shows that a slight majority (51%) of American adults want to see the Senate convict Donald Trump and remove him from office. In contrast, 46% want him to continue serving as president. The results are basically along party lines, with 85% of Democrats wanting to dump Trump and 86% of Republicans wanting to keep him. However, not wanting to fire Trump doesn't necessarily mean someone approves of him. Currently 40% approve of the job he is doing and 58% disapprove.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll offered a third choice, censure by Congress. In that poll, 44% of adults wanted a conviction, 15% wanted censure, and 31% wanted acquittal.

Another interesting question is whether people think Trump has done something illegal. Sixty-three percent think he has and 70% say he has done something unethical.

The "removers" can be broken down in various ways. By race, 41% of white voters, 82% of black voters, and 66% of Latino voters want Trump gone. By age, 63% of younger voters 18-29 want him out but only 41% of seniors do. By education, 60% of postgrads want Trump convicted against only 48% of people with a high school education or less.

As a final note, only 12% of Americans have at least some faith that both parties will do the right thing. Most Democrats (84%) don't trust the Republicans and most Republicans (85%) don't trust the Democrats. So no matter how the trial ends, half the country will be steaming angry. (V)

Poll: Sanders Moves into the Lead Nationally

For the first time in a CNN/SSRS national poll, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has moved into the lead. He is at 27% and Joe Biden is second with 24%. Here are the numbers for the past six monthly polls:

Candidate Jan. Dec. Nov. Oct. Sep. Aug.
Bernie Sanders 27% 20% 17% 16% 17% 15%
Joe Biden 24% 26% 28% 34% 24% 29%
Elizabeth Warren 14% 16% 14% 19% 18% 14%
Pete Buttigieg 11% 8% 11% 6% 6% 5%
Mike Bloomberg 5% 5% 3% N/A N/A N/A
Amy Klobuchar 4% 3% 2% 3% 1% 1%
Andrew Yang 4% 3% 3% 2% 2% 1%
Tom Steyer 2% 1% 3% 1% 1% 1%

While Sanders and Biden are statistically tied, the others are all far behind. Clearly this is good news for Sanders. Nevertheless, any one poll is just that: one poll. When the voters start chiming in on Feb. 3, things can change rapidly. (V)

Clinton Walks Back Comment about Sanders

On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton refused to say whether she would endorse Bernie Sanders if he were the Democratic presidential nominee. Yesterday, she took it back and said she would endorse Sanders if he is the nominee.

It is hard to tell what game Clinton is playing here. She knew very well that refusing to state categorically that she would support any Democrat was going to get massive attention and massive blowback, as it did. So why did she change her mind? Maybe she is a snowflake and can't handle a little criticism, but that seems pretty unlikely given what she has gone through for the past 30 years. More likely she is genuinely worried about a Sanders' candidacy, since she is old enough to remember the last time the left got its way. In 1972, the Democrats nominated a progressive antiwar senator from South Dakota, George McGovern. He carried Massachusetts and D.C., good for 17 electoral votes. Richard Nixon won the other 49 states and got 520 electoral votes. One faithless elector from Virginia voted for the Libertarian Party candidate, John Hospers. Clinton is probably worried that Sanders wouldn't do a lot better than McGovern, so she wanted to bring up the electability issue before closing ranks and agreeing to support the Democratic nominee, no matter who it is. (V)

Gabbard Sues Clinton

Even if Hillary Clinton was trying to stay out of the headlines, she'd still be in the headlines. While the furor surrounding the non-endorsement of Bernie Sanders was dying down, the news broke that would-be presidential nominee Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is suing the has-been presidential nominee for slander, in response to Clinton's suggestion that Gabbard is being groomed as a Russian asset.

As we have pointed out many times, most recently as this weekend, it is very hard to win libel/slander suits, and it's even harder to win them if you're a public figure. There's no way Gabbard could plausibly win this case (or the $50 million she's suing for). First of all, the ever-wily Clinton didn't actually name the Representative by name. That would put Gabbard in the position of arguing that of course she was the target of those remarks, because what other female presidential candidate could plausibly be described as a potential Russian asset? In other words, for Gabbard to make her case, she'd effectively have to concede the original verbiage was only plausible as a description of herself, thus shooting her case right in the foot. In effect, Clinton was using a version of the small penis rule (and yes, that's a real thing). On top of that, Gabbard would have to prove not only that Clinton was spreading a falsehood, but that she did so knowingly and maliciously. Since there is some evidence to support the claim (remember, Gabbard need not be "in the know" to be groomed), Clinton could say she had a good-faith belief that her words were truthful.

The case is so weak, in fact, that it surely won't get to trial. Either Gabbard will find some reason not to move forward, or a judge will dismiss it. But winning, of course, is not the goal, publicity is. Some outlets think that Gabbard was looking for some much-needed attention for her presidential campaign heading into the Iowa caucuses. That's dubious, though; suing your party's most recent nominee, one who collected the votes of 63 million people, is hardly a way to gain traction with your party's voters. Our view is that this is another phase of Gabbard's audition for a future job with Fox News. After all, a Democrat who sometimes sounds a lot like a Republican is right up their alley (see, for example, David Clarke). If such a person is a noted nemesis of Hillary Clinton, who is much-despised by most Fox viewers, all the better. (Z)

Time to End Newspaper Endorsements?

NBC News' Matt Laslo has an interesting piece up about newspaper endorsements of political candidates. In short, he thinks the time has come for them to go the way of the dodo. He argues that, particularly in these polarized times, when just about everyone is eyeing the media with wary eyes, endorsements serve to undermine newspapers' credibility. There's something to this; if a newspaper endorses, say, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) today, can readers be 100% confident that Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are getting a fair shake in stories written tomorrow? Meanwhile, observes Laslo, the benefit of this potentially credibility-damaging practice is...not much. There is much evidence that newspaper endorsements don't really move the needle. Heck, in 2016, winning presidential candidate Donald Trump got the endorsement of exactly one major newspaper, and that paper (the Las Vegas Review-Journal) takes its marching orders from its owner, Trump mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

The only thing we would add to Laslo's piece is that the original need for newspaper endorsements no longer exists. When they first emerged, in the post-Civil War years, voters had limited exposure to politicians and their ideas, and there was little (or no) newspaper space devoted to political analysis. That meant that a piece on X candidate, and why Y newspaper's staff thinks you should vote for them, was providing a fair bit of information and insight that otherwise was not available. But in the 21st century, people have access to all kinds of information about their would-be leaders, from endless televised debates and news hits, to informational websites like OnTheIssues and Ballotpedia, to lots of daily analysis of candidates and their political positions (ahem). In this sort of media environment, endorsements are almost entirely redundant. Of course, there's not much that newspaper types value more than tradition (except perhaps whiskey), so the odds that many (or any) outlets take Laslo's advice are close to nil. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Jan20 Supreme Court Meets the Electoral College
Jan19 Sunday Mailbag
Jan18 Saturday Q&A
Jan17 Impeachment Day 1 Goes Badly for Trump
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